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Rules Don’t Apply, the latest, and from what I understand, the last film from Warren Beatty who wrote, produced and plays famous recluse Howard Hughes here, has some charming moments in the first half.
The story revolves round Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, who has the looks, charisma, but a lot more talent than B-movie actor Audie Murphy) who is one of Hughes’s many drivers who escort one of the billionaire’s many starlets around Los Angeles. The starlet assigned to Frank is Marla Mabry (Lily Collins).
Both are quite religious (Hughes chose his drivers from church goers as a guard against them trying to bed his starlets). They say grace before meals, watch The Billy Graham Crusade on television, and attend church every Sunday. And not only do they do this unapologetically when others are around and in the streets where they might scare the horses, Beatty himself presents this spiritual side of the characters just as unapologetically.
And Ehrenreich and Collins have a nice chemistry between them. They don’t exactly set the celluloid on fire, but they make a cute and attractive couple.
Each have their own goals. Frank wants Hughes to invest in a plot of land Frank wants to develop into suburbanite single family dwellings. Marla is looking to play the lead in one of Hughes’s films (though she’s much better at composing songs).
Both find themselves stymied by Hughes’s odd and erratic behavior, behavior that grows more and more odd and more and more erratic as the movie goes on.
But this is also where the story veers off course. The more the movie goes on, the more it gets off the two youngsters and the more it focuses on Hughes’s aberrant, if not highly amusing, behavior.
So the film not only loses its way, it also loses its steam as all involved try to find a way to hold it all together.
Ultimately, they fail.
However, it must be said that Beatty is very good here in playing the paranoid and mentally deteriorating Hughes. It’s a role that certainly speaks to his strengths as an actor with his excellent comic timing, a taste for the outsiders in society and an acting technique where it always feels like he is improvising.
It also has a stellar supporting cast with an incredible roster of character actors including Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Martin Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, Hart Bochner, Paul Sorvino, Paul Schneider (with a tan the shade of Trump orange), Dabney Coleman, Alec Baldwin and Billy Graham…as himself.
When I first saw the previews for Allied, the new romance cum espionage thriller written by Steven Knight and directed by Robert Zemeckis, I thought to myself, this is one of the most ridiculous premises to a film I’ve seen in some time.
Upon seeing the complete movie, I found my expectations to be more than unfortunately confirmed.
It’s my own fault. In the coming attractions, Brad Pitt’s character says quite clearly, “This is absurd”.
But did I listen? No.
The basic premise revolves around American spy Max Vatan (Pitt), who works for British Intelligence, joining up with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cottilard) to assassinate a German ambassador in Morocco (why anyone would want to assassinate an ambassador is beyond me, but apparently very little is beyond the filmmakers here).
After successfully fulfilling their mission, they marry and move to London where they have a baby during the Battle of Britain. (Nothing comes easy for this couple; they first make love during a sandstorm and they give birth while bombs are falling and glass is flying.)
Then comes the big inciting incident. Max is called in by his superior officer (an excellent Jared Harris who has really made something of his career ever since he hung himself on Mad Men) for a briefing by an S.O.E. official (Simon McBurney…you know you’re about to receive some bad news when a character played by McBurney shows up).
They inform Max that they suspect that Marianne is not really Marianne, but a German spy who has taken her place.
Now though there is something a bit campy about this set up, that’s not where the real absurdity begins. This comes next. They tell Max they have set a trap for Marianne and if she falls into it, Max will have to kill her himself.
Note, they don’t decide to exploit her to pass on false information to the Germans. Nor do they plan to arrest and interrogate her for what she may know. They are going to order Max, her husband, to kill her.
This last is described as standard procedure. Perhaps it is. I mean, I so want to call shenanigans on it, but I can’t. Not really. I’m no expert. But whether historically accurate or not, this comes across as pure lunatic fantasy on the part of the filmmakers.
But the absurdity doesn’t end here (I feel like I’m selling Ginsu knives-wait, what would you pay…). Max decides to try to prove Marianne’s innocence.
Now, he has two options here to do this, though only one is given. It is British Intelligence’s contention that the real Marianne was killed and replaced by this new Marianne before the mission in Morocco.
So he can either try to prove that his Marianne is actually the real Marianne (which is irrelevant, because if she falls into the trap, she will be killed whether she’s a fake Marianne or the real Marianne who might have turned at some point). Or, assuming as Max does that Marianne is innocent, he could try to find the real spy.
Guess which one he chooses?
And even though it leads him to run a mission into France to show a photo to the Resistance there (I told you, nothing comes easy for this couple).
Hamilton Berger, I rest my case.
And I won’t even talk about the ending.
With Matthew Goode as a disfigured office.
Don’t be surprised if it gets a few technical nominations at Oscar time.