It’s safe to say director Robert Zemeckis is a rare talent in cinema. From fantasy like ‘Back To The Future’, to drama with ‘Forrest Gump’, to animation with ‘The Polar Express’ and cutting edge cinema-making with ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, he pretty much delivers satisfying works for the genre. Now he takes his turn with the war time thriller, and while he doesn’t present a game changer, he delivers a well-executed and, at times, gripping story.
Set in the lovely city of Casablanca before switching to war-torn London and the villages of France, this picture looks and sounds of its time. Trilby hats, hold-up stockings, swastikas, air-raids and lots of swing music. It’s got everything you’d want from a WWII setting and it’s full of sequences shot both behind enemy lines with tight tension and action, and also on the home front full of drama and emotion.
Marion Cotillard does what she does best here. Smoulder with her classic good looks and un-readable motives which have you always questioning who or what she is, but never stopping to feel for her and fall for her as our leading man does. She never makes it easy to read her, but it IS clear to see how good an actress she is; she doesn’t need to run around shooting to make an impact, she just needs to speak and draw you in and plant the seeds in your mind.
One flaw I found sadly is with Brad Pitt – which is a shame as the whole movie revolves around the ability to invest in these two lovers. I don’t know if he was trying TOO hard to act closed off or if he had Angelina on the mind following his recent split, but it’s very hard to feel Vatan is engaged in anything here except towards the climax. He always looks uncomfortable and doubtful and on-edge, even before the accusation of treason is thrown. Because of this, I felt Cotillard was 100% into things, but Pitt wasn’t, and so made it hard for me connect with his emotion because he rarely shows any, and barley even cracks a smile while Cotillard does it all for him.
We have a decent supporting cast, and a decent crew behind the camera to make this world dangerous and still beautiful around the pair. The action isn’t heaped on so don’t expect something to rival ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘Fury’ – this is a romantic thriller, with a war going on behind it all. From a stylish and absorbing opening mission to set the scene, things slow down for the most part after that but keeps you alert with sequences including a brief but chilling Blitz attack, and a raid on a French prison. The only thing I found a little “off” visually was the opening parachute landing…but that’s soon forgotten and out the way.
Diegetic sounds and light make this a beautiful looking film in places; sprawling English countryside tainted with smouldering buildings, rainy London streets, air-raid sirens and tracers lighting the night sky, and flowing champagne, cocktail dresses and elegant décor of wealthy embassies. It’s got that classic war movie look and is very stylish when it wants to be, and very brutal and cold also to bring home the reality of war.
You may think you know where the film is going, but there are few moments just to make you re-think things, and you never know if you can trust your own instinct or listen to Cotillard or Pitt with theirs. A few nice moments devoid of soundtrack and dialogue make scenes palm sweatingly good as you wait for a shock that doesn’t always come – playing on the insecurity of how Vatan feels at home and at work.
This could have been more engrossing if Pitt seemed to be more engaged and invested, because the talent is there and so is the style but he makes it that much harder for us to connect with him. Everything else however is wonderful, and the finale I don’t think disappoints at all and is certainly going to leave you with a lump in your throat, for whatever the reason may be.