Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. United Kingdom/USA, 2016. GK Films, Huahua Media, ImageMovers, Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Steven Knight. Cinematography by Don Burgess. Produced by Graham King, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis. Music by Alan Silvestri. Production Design by Gary Freeman. Costume Design by Joanna Johnston. Film Editing by Mick Audsley, Jeremiah O’Driscoll. Academy Awards 2016.
A Canadian spy (Brad Pitt) working for the British forces during World War II is sent to Casablanca, where he plays house with a French agent (Marion Cotillard) until they can pull off the assassination of a Nazi bigwig. They do their jobs but they also give into a mutual attraction that leads to love, marriage and baby makes three back in London before Pitt gets some disturbing news: his superiors believe that Cotillard is a double agent for the Germans and he needs to put her loyalty to the test, the stakes for both his personal and professional life devastating to say the least. Shot with an overt emphasis on nostalgia, Robert Zemeckis’ tribute to early forties Warner Bros. spy thrillers is so intent on being the kind of movie your parents love (with a little lesbianism thrown in for you modern kids) that the effect is almost as bland as the low-burn chemistry between the leads. Pitt always does better in homosocial ensemble movies than in romances, despite his famed looks and physique, and in spite of Cotillard acting up a storm around him, but there’s an even more annoying sense of pride in just how pristine everything looks that kills the tension here. Placing gorgeous movie stars in digitally created deserts doesn’t look like the kind of artifice-is-the-message substance that Zemeckis might be going for, it actually just looks fake and, unlike that popular movie by Michael Curtiz that was shot on back lots but actually took you somewhere, this one fails to be evocative. That said, the plot is strangely compelling enough despite being so very derivative, buoyed mostly by the skill of the ensemble cast: Pitt has become both the Gary Cooper and the Zsa Zsa Gabor of his time, a beloved illiterate whose efforts at youthful preservation have become distracting, but you can’t help but love the guy anyway. Jared Harris is wonderful as his superior, and Zemeckis still knows how to make a pristine and accomplished looking movie even when it isn’t his finest.