November 24, 2016
We all first heard about this movie when it had the unfortunate association with the biggest breakup news in Hollywood this year -- the divorce of power-couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. One of the reasons being floated was an alleged affair of Pitt with his co-star in the film, French actress Marion Cotillard. This had shades of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (2005), incidentally also a film about married spies, where Brad Pitt dumped Jennifer Aniston in favor of his co-star Jolie. Gossip aside, the quality of this film looked outstanding based from the trailers alone. This was THE movie to watch this week.
It was 1942. Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan got together French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour in Casablanca, Morocco. They pretended to be husband and wife in order to infiltrate a German function to execute a dangerous mission together. The couple fell in love for real, get married in London, and have a child. However, Max was presented with military intel that threatened their blissful union. Defying his orders, Max is determined to fix the problem in his own way.
The first thing that really strikes you with this film is its glossy and lush cinematography by Don Burgess (Oscar winner for "Forrest Gump" 1994). This is clearly reminiscent of big epic romantic films in the past like "The English Patient". The desert scenes were sweeping and breathtaking, as was the love scene in the car during a sandstorm. The production design (by Gary Freeman) and costume designs (by Joanna Johnston) were also of Oscar-worthy quality and elegance. The lead actors both have qualities of Old Hollywood glamour which completes the film's captivating look of cinematic prestige.
Even now in his 50s, Brad Pitt can still do these romantic lead roles very well. The camera loves his visage and he looked impeccable whatever he was wearing, be it just undershirts or a formal tuxedo or a full uniform. He has been in a couple of other World War II films just recently, "Inglorious Basterds" (2009) and "Fury" (2014), so he fit into this role quite smoothly. He was also able to handle creditably the dramatic requirements of the role, that of a desperate husband who had to secretly find a way to save his marriage and still make everything look normal on the surface.
Marion Cotillard was gorgeous and vibrant as her character was supposed to be. Her depth as an actress was in full display here in a complex role, enhanced by her fashionable outfits and radiant smile. She owned the Morocco scenes with her magnetic outgoing screen presence. It was too bad that her role somewhat got curtailed when the story moved to London, but her Marianne was clearly the driving inspiration behind Max's every action even if we do not see her on screen.
Director Robert Zemeckis should be credited for the incredible suspense he had created in the last sequences of this film. He took his time, which had us all hanging on to the edges of our seats as he built-up to the emotional and sentimental climax. This sentimentality was what won Zemeckis the Oscar for "Forrest Gump" (1994) after all. He also used the mirror a lot for many of his scenes, probably hinting on the illusions spies have to create in their line of work, hence some imaginative blocking and camera angles were employed.
Overall, I thought this film was engaging on a visual and emotional level. The beauty of the landscape and the actors will transport you to another place and time as only Hollywood can. This extreme glamour may keep you distant but you will be kept interested and hanging on up to it ultimate resolution. Admittedly, the romance part could have been better built up in the first act especially with Max's cold detached personality making chemistry difficult. Definitely though, the wartime intrigue and mystery investigation give the film the spice and excitement it needs later in the game. 8/10.