ALLIED – Alan Silvestri
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Allied is a romantic drama/thriller set in World War II, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Pitt plays Max Vatan, a Canadian Air Force officer attached to the British military, who is sent undercover to French Morocco to carry out a dangerous mission among the Nazis stationed there. In Casablanca he meets his contact, French resistance operative Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), who is posing as his wife. However, during the course of their mission, they genuinely fall in love, and commit to moving to London together once their assignment is complete. Several years and one baby later, and despite the ongoing war in Europe, Max and Marianne seemingly have an otherwise idyllic life in suburban England, until Max receives some shocking news from his superior officers at the Special Operations Executive (Jared Harris, Simon McBurney): classified information has been leaked to the Germans, and they think that Marianne is the spy.
I have always been a fan of Robert Zemeckis’s films. Through films like the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Contact, and especially Forrest Gump, Zemeckis continually fuelled my imagination and emotion with movies that were action-packed, funny, heart-warming, and occasionally quite profound. In recent years, however, his films have left me significantly underwhelmed: his trips to the uncanny valley through animation on The Polar Express, Beowulf, and others, in my opinion never quite succeeded the way he wanted them to, while his more recent adult dramas like Flight and The Walk were sincere and earnest, but lacked heart. Allied, unfortunately, is more of the same. It has a stellar acting ensemble, enormous talent behind the camera, and is handsomely staged despite some surprisingly dodgy-looking special effects, but I never felt invested in the film at all. Any potential for epic romance was squandered behind screenwriter Steven Knight’s predictable mystery plot and the un-engaging chemistry between the leads, who sat around looking stylish, and smoked a lot, but did very little else.
Alan Silvestri’s score for Allied is similarly disappointing. Zemeckis and Silvestri are one of the most enduring and successful director-composer teams in contemporary cinema; including this one, they have worked on 16 films to date, going back all the way to 1984 and Romancing the Stone, and several of their collaborations resulted in iconic scores that are still lauded to this day. However, much like the films themselves, Silvestri’s scores for Zemeckis’s more recent projects have generally failed to impress; the last truly great one, for me, was The Polar Express, which is now 12 years old, and since then his scores for his most regular employer have mostly been of the quiet, introverted type. Allied continues that trend.
What frustrates me most about Allied is how un-ambitious it is. The score basically has two modus operandi: slow, pretty thematic writing for strings and woodwinds, and tense, rhythmic suspense action sequences which increase the percussion content and make use of darker, more threatening chords. This latter style dominates the first half of the score, from the opening “Essaouira Desert/Main Title” through “What Are Our Odds?” and “German Embassy.” These cues tend to be somewhat introspective, offering extended periods of rhythmic tapped wooden and metallic percussion writing overlaid by piano, string sustains, harp, and light woodwind textures, and a semi-recurring three note motif which signifies some sort of unspecified danger from the Nazis in Morocco. Some of the woodwind writing has a vaguely Middle Eastern/North African phrasing, especially in “What Are Our Odds?,” but beyond that there is very little to give it a sense of personality, location specificity, or to bring out any of the deeper emotions that Pitt and Cotillard wanted the audience to feel.
“It’s A Girl” introduces the score’s main theme, which I’m calling Anna’s Theme, as it appears to most frequently represent Max and Marianne’s love for their baby daughter. A sweet 7-note melody for woodwinds, which often segues into pianos and strings, the theme has obvious echoes of scores like Contact and Cast Away, and is a prototypical Silvestri ‘quiet’ melody from the temp track, but it has nowhere near the emotional weight of its predecessors. Subsequent performances in “Best Day Ever” and at the beginning of “Confession/Escape” are pleasant, but entirely forgettable in the greater scheme of things, melting away from your memory almost as soon as you’ve heard them.
“Trust” is probably the score’s most effective sequence of drama and suspense, featuring harp glissandi and brooding string figures above a chugging ostinato. As the cue progresses it becomes slightly more lively, with heavier emphasis on brass, denser writing, and some harsher electronic rhythmic ideas which have some very vague similarities to the rhythmic ideas from Predator, albeit without their scope or grandeur. This style of writing continues in the second half of “Confession/Escape,” allowing for more dramatic impetus, but as I mentioned before the music is just so tepid, content to merely present simple percussive ideas, staccato brass hits, and basic string chords, with none of the complicated bravado or musicianship that Silvestri has shown in so many action scores over the years.
The conclusive “The Letter/End Credit” is a 6-minute extrapolation on Anna’s Theme featuring especially strong oboe writing, as well as some lovely piano textures and warm string chords, and is by far the score’s most effective cue. It is only here that Silvestri finally removes most of his self-imposed shackles and allows his orchestra to perform the main theme with heart and tenderness, and the results are undeniably lovely, but it’s far too late to be effective.
Silvestri’s score amounts to just 27 minutes of music on Sony Classical’s short album; the rest is given over to a series of jazz, big band, and swing instrumentals from the period, including lively performances of “The Sheik of Araby,” Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing,” and Benny Goodman’s “Flying Home”. The lack of British wartime classics is disappointing – every film set in Britain in the 1940s needs a bit of Dame Vera Lynn or Flanagan & Allen – but the music is still good, even though it does tend to show up Silvestri’s contributions to the soundtrack a little with its zest and energy.
There are several Alan Silvestri scores I don’t particularly care for, including some of his recent action scores like Red 2, G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra, and most of The A-Team, but Allied may be even more disappointing than those films because of the potential it has to inspire music of great beauty, emotional weight, and thrilling action. Just think about it: Allied is an epic love story, a wartime drama, and an action thriller, that spans the globe from the vast desert vistas of the Sahara to the bustle of 1940s London. The prospects are mouthwatering. Instead, Allied is, more than anything, rather dull, and that’s one of the worst criticisms you can level at any score.
Buy the Allied soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Essaouira Desert/Main Title (5:21)
- What Are Our Odds? (2:46)
- German Embassy (2:09)
- It’s A Girl (2:16)
- Trust (3:07)
- Best Day Ever (1:51)
- Confession/Escape (3:49)
- The Letter/End Credit (6:27)
- The Sheik of Araby (written by Francis Wheeler, Ted Snyder, and Harry B. Smith) (2:33)
- You Are My Lucky Star (written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed) (3:06)
- J’Attendrai (written by Rosanna d’Agnillo, Louis Poterat, Giuseppe Rastelli, and Dino Oliveri) (2:59)
- Sing Sing Sing (written by Louis Prima) (4:09)
- Flying Home (written by Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton) (1:55)
Running Time: 42 minutes 28 seconds
Sony Classical (2016)
Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. Orchestrations by Mark Graham. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Jeff Carson. Album produced by Alan Silvestri.