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Reviews

Movie reviews: Brad Pitt looks too good in Allied to come across as real

Period spy thrillers Age Of Shadows and Allied are elaborate affairs and Una is a gripping tale about a woman who meets her sexual abuser

Now that the mega-storm known as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has abated somewhat, it is safe for other movies to come out to play.

First are two handsomely mounted period spy thrillers - the South Korean Age Of Shadows (NC16, 140 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars) and, from Hollywood, Allied (M18, 120 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars).

Set in the 1920s period of the Japanese occupation, Shadows barrels along like the trans-Asia locomotive in the story's finale. At its heart is the cat-and-mouse tension between police captain Lee (Song Kang Ho) and resistance leader Kim (Gong Yoo, from last year's hit Train To Busan).

The drama hinges on whether Lee is a born-again patriot turning against his Japanese employers or a double agent working for the occupation forces.


Gong Yoo in Age Of Shadows (above); Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in Allied; and Michael Pena, Kate Winslet and Will Smith in Collateral Beauty. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

As the action moves between Seoul and Shanghai, Lee and Kim circle warily, each daring the other to put his trust in him.

Director Kim Jee Woon (the spectacular murder mystery I Saw The Devil, 2010) emphasises the action - the film opens with a chase and shootout and ends with a killing on a train, and even quiet conversations are filmed like showdowns on a dusty street outside a saloon.

There is plenty here that echoes Kim's oddball Eastern-style western, The Good The Bad The Weird (2008), not least in the terse rhythms of speech and the idea that a nation is birthed by outlaws and gunslingers, not politicians and bureaucrats.

The scenes are visually interesting, but with the work running at 140 minutes, its single-note grimness is wearying and the whole affair is in desperate need of tighter editing.

Allied is the other spy drama opening this week with good-looking people in clothes that make one wish one lived in more elegant times. Which is to say, when you start noticing the wardrobe and set design, the story is not doing its job.

Gong Yoo in Age Of Shadows; Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in Allied (above); and Michael Pena, Kate Winslet and Will Smith in Collateral Beauty.
Gong Yoo in Age Of Shadows; Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in Allied (above); and Michael Pena, Kate Winslet and Will Smith in Collateral Beauty. PHOTO: UIP

It is 1942 and Brad Pitt is Max, a Canadian spy who undertakes a dangerous mission in Morocco with French operative Marianne (Marion Cotillard). The pair fall in love and set up a home in England, but can they shake off their past selves and learn to trust each other?

The prolific English screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, 2007; Pawn Sacrifice, 2014) asks the question: What if two spies lurking in Rick's Cafe in the movie Casablanca (released, not coincidentally, in 1942) fell in love and came home?

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future trilogy, 1985-1990; Forrest Gump, 1994) treats the story like the writing exercise that it is - neither Max nor Marianne come to life as human beings.

The director, an artist fond of pushing the frontiers of computer graphics in movies, overlays gloopy digital soft-focus on every frame. Colours have an unearthly glow and Pitt seems to have reverse-aged 30 years. But it reinforces the idea that one is looking not at a movie, but a shop display, or elaborate cosplay.


Actress Rooney Mara (above) plays Una in the movie of the same name. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

For something so real it is almost painful to watch, there is Una (M18, 94 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars), a film adapted from a chamber drama. Una (Rooney Mara) pays a visit to Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), a man who sexually abused her when she was in her early teens.

Una is scarred, of course, and over 90 tense minutes, moviegoers are shown how much.

This is not quite a revenge fantasy, nor a paean to healing; what unfolds in the meeting - occurring mostly in real time, with flashbacks to a younger Una (played by Ruby Stokes) - is nonetheless gripping.

Gong Yoo in Age Of Shadows; Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in Allied; and Michael Pena, Kate Winslet and Will Smith in Collateral Beauty (above).
Gong Yoo in Age Of Shadows; Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in Allied; and Michael Pena, Kate Winslet and Will Smith in Collateral Beauty (above). PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

For a story about overcoming psychological damage, try Collateral Beauty (PG13, 94 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars), though there are no guarantees its uplift will be in any way satisfying or convincing.

Will Smith is Howard, a partner in a prestigious advertising agency. His colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) are worried - the death of Howard's young daughter seems to have shattered his mind.

What follows is part-fairy tale, part-realist drama about grief, with lashings of comedy, due to the plot turning on an elaborate con designed to deceive Howard into signing away his share of the company.

Actors, played by Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore, carry out the con.  

There is nothing wrong with a wide emotional palette, but director David Frankel leans too heavily on the healing and the homilies in the rush to closure; the smugness of the therapy-talk leaks into and wrecks everything else.

In a tragic waste of resources, Mirren appears as a twinkly godmother figure while Winslet spends most of her time looking on with deep concern at Smith's tear-stained face.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Dark secrets behind the shadows'. Print Edition | Subscribe