An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Allied is an odd mix of touching moments and bad judgement. It offers a sub/middling performance by Brad Pitt and a warm, sophisticated one by Marion Cotillard who has to put all the punch in their relationship. But let’s start at the beginning.

Premise: Intelligence officer Max (Brad Pitt) is to meet French Resistance figure Marianne (Marion Cotillard) in order to play a husband/wife team who will murder the Nazi ambassador during an elegant wartime reception in Casablanca. For just a second we wonder if there might have been an easier way for him to get there than by parachuting into the Moroccan desert.

Director Robert Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight deserve no forgiveness for what they do to this promising World War II premise. An enormous cast creates party goers, soldiers, pilots, Nazis, and dead bodies but all of them are presented in contemporary detail and language.

The focus is on Pitt and Cotillard as they try to convince the Nazis that they are married lovers. Here’s the tough part: Watching Pitt isn’t easy. He is simply too wooden to carry the romantic lead. We root for him, hoping his stone face is simply a reflection of his serious assignment, but no, he’s just plain stiff. Put a gun in his hand or a cliff to jump off and he becomes slightly more animated though still ruinously contemporary.

Cotillard, carrying the movie opposite Pitt’s cardboard figure, does a fine job of creating a spy clever enough to fool both the Allies and the Nazis. She can convey deep emotion with the slightest change in expression, and that is the key to her role here as a possible double agent.

Suddenly they are married with a baby back in wartime England where Max is faced with the accusation that Marianne may be a spy. Pitt comes alive just a little as he tries to prove her innocence.

The major problem here is cultural error in the silliest of ways. Behavior and language in the supporting cast are not remotely rooted in 1943. Example: fu….g was a mere verb back then, not the dominant adjective of today and its frequent use here plants the movie firmly in today’s culture. Nor is it possible to believe a modern poster boy as a spy in the war that shook the world more than seventy years ago. And Brad Pitt as a linguist?

It is all too obvious that Director Robert Zemeckis (age 65) and writer Steven Knight (57) haven’t bothered to do the research that could have brought WWII alive on the screen. The movie they have made has few roots in the 1940s, and that’s a shame because they had a good plot. As it is, older audience members are often close to laughter – or resentment – while younger ones are denied the chance to soak up an important piece of history. The problem? The audience really wants to like it and can’t.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Allied
Word count : 497
Running time : 2:04
Rating : R
Date : December 4, 2016


Nocturnal Animals

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Nocturnal Animals

If I tell you that Nocturnal Animals is about an art gallery owner and a novelist, that might be a lure – as it was for me. If I then add that it is a first rate production on all counts, your mind will be made up, right? But what if I add – from some weird sense of honor – that it is possibly the most violent movie I’ve ever seen. The violence is both physical and emotional, a combination that gains its hypnotic power from the high quality of the script, direction, acting, and the atmosphere.

If Nocturnal Animals sounds like an odd title, not so. The good guys are victimized by the bad guys in the barren wastes of Texas scrub. Both location and mood from beginning to end are heavy and dark, the happenings just plain grim. All of this is done so well that we are right up there in the story and director Tom Ford never lets us go.

After a bizarre series of opening scenes grabs our attention, we meet Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who is facing the unhappiness of life with her second husband (Armie Hammer). Twenty years earlier, she had left first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) after telling him he was too weak to become the writer he wanted to be. Now, like a shot in the dark, Susan receives a novel written and dedicated to her by Edward, the first. Prepare yourself.

From that minute forward, the movie alternates between Susan’s reading of the novel and director Ford’s filming of what she is reading. That combination adds up to an unimaginably vicious form of vengeance. The more she reads, the more terrible it gets. It was at this point that I began to wonder who possibly had the imagination to devise this complex exercise in malice. Tom Ford, of course. He wrote the script and directed the film.

The central performance that gives reality to the mayhem comes from Jake Gyllenhaal. Completely convincing as the discarded husband and as the author of the novel, he is the backbone of the film. Prolonged and villainous performances by Aaron Taylor Johnson and Kar Glusman will leave you speechless.

After the core horror, Tony enlists Bobby, a quirky lawman to help him track the guilty men. Appropriately for this movie Michael Shannon makes this lawman anything but the kind, understanding hero we want him to be.

Be warned that the revenge exacted by the ex-husband on his wife may be beyond anything you want to see. But if you love a good thriller, rest assured that master craftsman Tom Ford has made one of the best. As you watch this wicked tale unfold, ask yourself how Ford could have imagined, scripted, and directed anything as horrific and spellbinding as this. A gentle suggestion, park your car near the theater. You won’t want a long walk in the dark after this one.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Nocturnal Animals
Word count : 496
Running time : 1:56
Rating : R
Date : November 27, 2016


This review was posted on November 26, 2016, in Drama, Thriller.