Film Review: Allied
Written by James Jones
Just like the Second World War espionage undertaken by the central characters in Allied, it is always a dangerous game evoking the timeless classics of cinema. You have to do it really well, because if you don’t, audiences will just sit there wishing they were watching whatever film is being referenced. The star power of Brad Pitt, and the magnetism of Marion Cotillard, combine in Allied, a film which nods to the golden age of Hollywood with a romanticised vision of the war. Unfortunately, it lacks the depth or spark to set pulses racing.
Brad Pitt stars as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer who meets French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (played by Marion Cotillard) during a mission to kill a German diplomat in occupied Morocco. The year is 1942 and the backdrop which plays host to our assassins’ first encounter is Casablanca. The visually-striking opening scenes do much to conjure up wartime style, glowing with an iridescent elegance, even when Pitt is forced to murder a Nazi official to keep his cover intact. Rather bizarrely, the Canadian agent’s disguise is that of a Parisian, and Cotillard’s character seems unperturbed by his lack of a convincing Parisian accent: she calls him her “Québécoise”.
Allied is something of a love letter to the films of yesteryear, nodding to legendary movies such as Casablanca. Indeed, it owes much to Humphrey Bogart’s film: it opens in Casablanca, the dénouement takes place at an airfield, and a key plot point revolves around La Marseillaise and a piano: “play it again, Sam” is, this time, “can you play it at all?”.
The plot, although historically questionable and sometimes ridiculous, makes for a likeable film with some entertaining riffs on the spy thriller genre. Marianne Beausejour has constructed an undercover identity for herself in high-society Casablanca in order to get close enough to the German diplomat. Max assumes the role of her husband and must, she informs him, sleep on the rooftop of their apartment, as Moroccan men do after they have made love to their wives. It’s clear that Marianne is in control here.
Their strictly-professional relationship inevitably becomes something more (culminating in a rather indulgent and theatrical sex scene in a car surrounded by a sandstorm) and the pair return to London where they are married. Family life in during the Blitz (a baby has arrived by this point) is shattered for Max, however, when a sinister intelligence official (played by Simon McBurney) informs him that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy.
With director Robert Zemeckis in the driving seat (whose previous credits include Forrest Gump, Back to the Future and The Polar Express) what follows should be a taut and suspenseful drama with plenty of action and intrigue. Somewhat disappointingly, Allied plods along like an over-60s coach tour of WWII heritage, failing to match the Hitchcockian thrills it hopes to evoke, and does little to ignite the romance between Pitt and Cotillard. The whole film hangs on this relationship and, whilst Cotillard throws herself into the role of confident and enigmatic French agent, the chemistry with a Brylcreem-styled Brad Pitt is rather inert.
That said, the pair do look fabulous. Pitt has (obviously) never had a problem attracting the camera, and Cotillard shimmers in silk dresses and flowing gowns, nodding to the costumes of classic films such as Now, Voyager. Indeed, the poster for Allied is simply an image of Pitt and Cotillard on a black background, hinting at the importance of their love affair and the inherent glamour of their characters. In reality, there’s a distance between the two actors which is never closed, leaving Max’s search for the truth feeling rather inconsequential.
There are one or two nice touches (a tracking shot following Pitt walking down a corridor after learning of his wife’s supposed betrayal is handled well) and the production quality remains high throughout. Although Allied is perfectly watchable, its failure to construct a meaningful and, importantly, believable relationship between the central characters means that the thrills and emotions intended in the script are never realised. A shame, given the talent both in front and behind the camera.