Done in a decidedly less flashy style than many of director Robert Zemeckis’ previous works (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Walk), his World War II-set Allied successfully manages to combine genuine passion with political intrigue (although it is most definitely not a nod to Casablanca, as some have indicated, even though part of the movie is set, well, in Casablanca). Brad Pitt plays Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan who is parachuted behind enemy lines in North Africa where he mounts a massive and potentially deadly operation with the help of well-connected French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard).
In the process of planning and carrying out their mission, the two fall grow close, and who wouldn’t in costumes that make them look like ’40s movie stars with a top-notch production design to match. The budding romance is amplified by the fact that the pair are undercover as a married couple who can’t keep their hands off each other and that Marianne makes it clear that the reason she’s such a good spy is that she allows real emotions to settle in. The filmmakers keep the details of the mission mostly a secret, and when the explosive details occur, it’s essentially a stand in for the pair of agents have the greatest sex ever. At about the film’s halfway point, they really to head back to London to spend the rest of their lives together.
After pulling every string he can, Vatan is able to get Marianne back to London. He takes a desk job in intelligence, they get married, have babies, and before long, he is approached his superiors (led by Jared Harris as a co-workers, and a particularly steely Simon McBurney) who accuse his wife of being a spy for the Germans. Not only does Vatan not believe it, but he’s aware that if the accusations turn out to be true, he is required by law to kill her himself or be labeled a collaborator. Is he being tested by British intelligence to see if he’s loyal, or could it be his beloved is a traitor?
Pitt and Cotillard certainly do a convincing job selling the romance and devotion, and he does his best to protect her while still carrying out a clandestine investigator of her by planting false information in her path and seeing the details make their way to Germany. Vatan also leans on his sister Bridget (Lizzy Caplan) for help and advice, but even she is skeptical while she remains loyal her him. Pitt is especially strong here as the man torn between love and duty, while Cotillard plays Marianne closer to the vest, pulling off both playing the innocent and being coy when their world begins to crumble and she wonders why.
As scripted by the great Steve Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Locke), Allied might be one of Zemeckis’ lower-key efforts but that doesn’t mean there aren’t big moments, including a succession of London bombing-raid sequences that are genuinely terrifying and convincingly destructive. But the director’s greatest special effect is the heat that Pitt and Cotillard manage to generate and sustain throughout the film. And the fact that they do a great deal of this while speaking French for most of the beginning of the film is even more impressive and, of course, way sexier.
The film essentially crumbles in on its “Is She or Isn’t She?” premise culminating in a jarringly abrupt ending, rather than coming together in a more satisfying climax, and it’s this failure to stick the landing that keeps a very good film from being great. Still, a large portion of what’s here is solid, intriguing, beautifully realized and perfectly acted. One thing no one can accuse Robert Zemeckis of is repeating himself in terms of genres or subject matter, and his ability to adapt his style to suit the material is what has made him one of the great directors of just about every type of movie. Allied captures the mood and atmosphere of a classic wartime spy thriller, dipped in steamy romance sauce. Okay, there might have been a better way to put that, but you get my drift. Allied works most for the most part, as long as you don’t look to hard at that ending.