The enemy is listening
Perhaps Brad Pitt should avoid taking roles that see his character forced to kill his wife, the said ‘fictional’ scenario, twice now, spelling doom for his real-life relationship. Back in 2006 Brangelina’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith — an action-comedy about a couple of assassins hired by competing agencies to off one other — hit theaters only months after Brad Pitt ended his five-year ‘alliance’ to then-wife Jennifer Aniston for co-star Angelina Jolie. Now, we see history repeat itself in Allied, a romantic thriller which sees Pitt star alongside Marion Cotillard as an agent tasked with executing his wife after learning that she may be a German spy, the film being released right after Jolie filed for divorce, ending her twelve-year marriage to the 53-year-old heartthrob.
Paying homage to Hollywood movies of the 1940s, Allied is set in ’42, during World War II, and opens when Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes into a trackless Moroccan desert just outside of Casablanca. There he rendezvous with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a French resistance fighter who’d been assigned to pose as his wife, their mission, to assassinate a Nazi ambassador. As the duo put on a dazzling display of marital bliss to mask their cover in the Vichy-occupied town in which they’re infiltrating, they begin to develop real feelings for one another — the two eventually making love in the midst of a blazing sandstorm.
After completing their job — without a hitch, too — Max asks Marianne to accompany him back to England to become his wife, the couple welcoming a daughter, Anna, into the world whilst trying to start anew in a war-torn Britain, the newlyweds settling in a cozy spot in Hampstead. Still bound to his military duties, Max is shaken when he receives word from the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) claiming that Marianne might, in fact, be a secret Nazi agent (one who’d been lying about her identity and leaking classified information to Berlin), this setting him off on his own investigation, the anguished operative determined to prove his wife’s innocence — in the mere three days he’d been given to watch over her — before he’s ordered to do the unthinkable.
Although it’s being advertised as an all-out action flick — à la Inglourious Basterds (2009) meets Mr. & Mrs. Smith — Allied is not that kind of movie; think of it as a mystery-type novel with wartime double-crosses and erotic intrigue. Sure, there are a few gunfights here and there and a couple of explosions, but this is a very static picture, one that focuses on smaller moments, with prolific director Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump (1994), allowing viewers to determine (for themselves) whether Marianne is actually in love with Max or simply acting out of sheer military obligation. Truth be told, it’s when the story by Steven Knight, Eastern Promises (2007), breaks into investigation mode — with Max scurrying about to prove the allegations against his wife untrue — that the narrative really hits its stride.
Allied benefits from its strong central performances with headline stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard delivering first class acts, the leads communicating in both French and English. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), is fittingly debonair at the start of the film, when he’s posing as Marianne’s phosphate-selling hubby and completely convincingly when he’s grappling with the idea that the woman he loves could very well be betraying him. Marion Cotillard, Inception (2010), is stellar, too, the 41-year-old bringing old-time allure and surprising depth to her role, so much so that viewers will never be certain of Marianne’s murky background or possible intentions — in addition, Cotillard looks ravishing in that silky pale-green evening gown that’s featured on the flick’s poster. Think of the couple as a contemporary Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
With Allied basically working as a two-person show, the flick’s support players are wishy-washy at best. Lizzy Caplan, Cloverfield (2008), doesn’t have much to do as Max’s bohemian sister Bridget, bar ogle over her Polish girlfriend Louise (Charlotte Hope), while Matthew Goode, The Imitation Game (2014), is passable as Guy Sangster, a sour fallen comrade who was abandoned by the S.O.E. and left blinded by a wartime injury. Jared Harris, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), is fine as Max’s London superior, Colonel Frank Heslop, but it’s Simon McBurney, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), who really stands out as the cold-blooded S.O.E. official who delivers the distressing news to Max. Finally there’s August Diehl, Salt (2010), portraying Hobar, a high-ranking Nazi official that Max and Marianne must butter up for access to the lavish embassy shindig where their mark will be.
Chiefly shot in studio soundstages, the film’s turbulent exteriors and widescreen Lawrence of Arabia-type vistas all enjoy a vintage kinda style and mood, as do its noir-ish old-fashioned interiors, with regular Zemeckis collaborator cinematographer Don Burgess, Cast Away (2000), taking us back to the glory days of those sweeping classics such as Casablanca (1942). The period detail by production designer Gary Freeman, Maleficent (2014), is right on target, too, while the costumes by Joanna Johnston, Saving Private Ryan (1998) harken back to the timeless Orry-Kelly getups worn by stars from the 1940s.
Filmmaker Zemeckis also manages to stage a couple of burly set pieces in amongst the Hitchcockian suspense, with Marianne literally giving birth to her child in the midst of a German air raid and one heck of a party crasher in the form of a B-52 bomber. The highlight, however, is a sequence that sees Max and Marianne shoot down a wave of jostling Nazis as the twosome attempt to take out their target during a high-society gathering.
Although slow in parts, Bob Zemeckis’ Allied is a sensual cinematic page-turner that (for the most part) works, thanks to its excellent leads, slick A-grade production and nifty use of CGI, all of which come together in a smooth, seamless manner. And, while the film certainly won’t be for everyone, those who constantly complain that they ‘just don’t make ‘em like they used to,’ need look no further.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie