A producer friend saw Allied last night, and when she got home she called and said she hated it and claimed that The English Patient, which Allied is roughly similar to — passionate love story during World War II, a couple entwined with British intelligence although one may be in secret cahoots with the Germans**, sexy aura, partial use of a North African setting — is a much better film.

I said okay, maybe but that the general reaction to Allied has been one of approval. If nothing else it reminds that director Robert Zemeckis can be a consummate, old-school filmmaker when he steps out of the fantasy realm, and that he knows how to make an unexceptional story feel more haunting and classically textured than it might seem on the page. Allied didn’t make me do somersaults but I liked it for the most part. It’s a high-toned period popcorn movie — toney, well-crafted, excellent CGI.

Producer pal said she was also reminded of The English Patient due to Allied‘s first act being set in romantic Morocco (mostly Casablanca), and particularly by a lovemaking scene between Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, one that feels all the more intense due to occuring inside a car that’s parked near picturesque, Lawrence of Arabia-like sand dunes. Patient has a vaguely similar scene in which a heavy North African sandstorm nearly buries a group of travellers, and in fact buries one of their cars completely. Patient certainly romanticizes the desert in similar ways.

One of the strongest scenes in Allied delivers a slap to Pitt’s Max Vatan, a spy-assassin with ties to British intelligence. He’s informed during a meeting with a senior intelligence official (Simon McBurney) and a British officer (Jared Harris) that his wife (Cotillard) may be a German double-agent.*** At first Pitt reacts with anger (he kicks a chair) and denial, but he soon realizes that his only choice is to help clear his wife of suspicion.

As I watched the Pitt-Harris-McBurney scene I was reminded of a similar moment in John Huston‘s Prizzi’s Honor (’85). It’s probably the best scene in the film. Jack Nicholson‘s Charley Partanna is told by three Prizzi family chiefs — Bill Hickey‘s Don Corrado Prizzi, Robert Loggia‘s Eduardo Prizzi and John Randolph’s Angelo “Pop” Prizzi — that his wife is a thief and an assassin who has to be sacrificed (i.e., given to the police for a murder of a cop’s wife) for the good of the family. At first Nicholson is taken aback but as he considers the situation more carefully his reactions are more subtle and measured than Pitt’s. It’s just a much better scene than the one in Allied.

The scene I’m referring begins at 1:15 and ends at 7:40:

You can’t get Prizzi’s Honor on Bluray unless you pop for a $30 Spanish import, and you can’t high-def stream it on Amazon, Netflix. Vudu, etc.

** I can’t remember if Ralph FiennesEnglish Patient character, based upon a real-life Hungarian named Count Laszlo Almasy, is alluded to as a possible German agent in the film. But it was reported years ago that Almasy may have been, in real life, in league with the Germans.

*** This has been conveyed in trailers and clips so no spoiler-whining.