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‘Allied’ Falls Flat, ‘Moonlight’ Shines

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There are a strange amount of strengths and weaknesses to “Allied,” a spy/romance thriller set during World War II. For the most part, it’s a good-looking melodrama with some interesting plot twists (avoid seeing the trailer). On the other hand, it’s missing some essential elements necessary to emotionally engage its audience.

Stephen Knight’s screenplay tells an interesting story about a Canadian spy (Brad Pitt) working for British Intelligence, who is sent on a mission to meet a French spy (Marion Cotillard) in Morocco, where the two will pose as husband and wife while tasked with the assassination of a German Chancellor.

This section of the story is all you should know going into the film, while the plot that follows has a way of unfolding that is best left for the movie viewing experience. This is an intriguing drama with a lot of good talent involved. So why didn’t I love it?

While a director like Robert Zemeckis, a man responsible for some of my favorite movies, brings a lot of spectacle to this film (including some excellently choreographed action segments), some of it is phony-looking and costs the film’s atmosphere a sense of realism in places where it is needed.

The other problem is sadly another talent I normally admire: Brad Pitt. With certain exceptions, Pitt mostly has a gift for playing somber and reserved characters. Having him play a spy makes sense, but a spy in a melodrama? Pitt isn’t up for the task. While the filmmakers are doing everything to convey this character’s emotions, Pitt isn’t doing the same job. For me, this void hurt an otherwise strong film.

I must still thank Brad Pitt for serving as executive producer on a unique film like “Moonlight.” Seeing a stunningly filmed work that takes me into the world of hidden human struggles – no matter how painful – and projected on a large screen in a dark room is among the more powerful reasons for why I love going to the movies.

“Moonlight” is a three-part story about the childhood, adolescence and adulthood of a poor black male growing up in a section of Miami steeped in drugs and violence while regularly suffering for the slightest of hints that he is gay.

The first part is about him befriending a local crack dealer (the excellent Mahershala Ali) who becomes something of a sober father figure to a kid who has been given little guidance, encouragement or love. At the same time, the dealer struggles with the guilt of his chosen profession, which contributes to the decay that makes this kid’s life so tough.

As we skip to the teen years and then adulthood of our main character, we see how his formative years influence his need to survive as a man. It’s hard to write more about the plot, but I will simply say that this is a slow yet hypnotically intense film that is captured with brilliantly planned sound and imagery reminiscent of films by Terrence Malick and Gus Van Sant.

With known talents like Andre Holland, Naomi Harris and the three actors playing the main character at different ages, the cast in this film does solid work. Writer/director Barry Jenkins deserves a lot of recognition for such an accomplished piece of filmmaking. “Moonlight” is easily among 2016’s best movies. VT