Opening your film with a title card that says “Casablanca, 1942” is a power move. Surely the last thing you’d want is for your audience to be holding you to the standard of one of the greatest WWII movies ever made, right? But maybe this was Robert Zemeckis’ way of deliberately painting himself into a corner, of forcing himself to put up or shut up. Whatever the case, it’s paid off. Allied is thrilling, smart, populist filmmaking that fully utilizes all the natural sex appeal of its setting (and stars), so much so that the homage doesn’t feel unearned. Sure, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard screwing in a car during a Casablanca sand storm on the eve of a plot to murder some Nazis is a pure Hollywood, but that’s the best kind of Hollywood. If that doesn’t appeal to you, at least a little, you’re probably a Communist, or worse.
I hadn’t watched the Allied trailers or read much about it, so when I sat down, I’d actually forgotten that it was a Robert Zemeckis movie (written by prolific screenwriter and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight). In retrospect, I should’ve guessed from the slight sheen on Brad Pitt’s CG-enhanced face. But Allied‘s technical trickery is like good plastic surgery, in that you only notice it if you know to look, a massive step forward for the guy who once gave us Tom Hanks’ creepy corpse eyes in the all-time uncanny valley classic, Polar Express. That feels like a lifetime ago now, and technique takes a backseat to storytelling in Allied, as it should. This is Zemeckis’ best movie in… damn, probably 20 years.
I may regret saying that, because if there’s one thing Zemeckis has been good at throughout his career, it’s making movies that capitalize on the mood of the zeitgeist, even if their appeal as worthwhile art fades with each passing year. In some cases, anyway. The Back to the Future movies will always be classics, even if I still wonder what drugs the Academy was on when they awarded Forrest Gump Best Picture. Forrest was fun, Castaway was thrilling, but Allied is both, plus it’s romantic, and feels like it’s actually about something. And, unlike anything Zemeckis has made for at least 16 years, it feels especially suited to this particular cultural moment.