Casablanca, 1942. Parachuted into enemy territory, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) embarks on a fateful mission with beautiful French agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). The pair must pretend to be husband and wife, a façade that soon gives way to something deeper — and more dangerous.
Fans of Brad Pitt eating things in movies, rest easy: your man tucks into an entire Moroccan tagine in Robert Zemeckis’ stolid, old-fashioned spy thriller. It’s one of the few reliable things in a curiously underpowered performance from an actor who should, on paper, lend exactly the kind of star wattage this tale of double-crosses and derring-do needs to spark into life.
It lacks the zip and chemistry to truly spark.
Posing as a Parisian mining executive, Pitt’s Canadian spy Max Vatan is sent on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Dropped into the desert outside Casablanca, he’s soon in a Gilda-style nightclub finding the other half of his cover story: a glamorous woman wearing hummingbirds on her blouse who’ll pose as his wife. It’s an apt motif, for the woman — Marion Cotillard’s Free French agent — is a free-spirited and captivating beauty. She’s soon putting the ‘fatale’ into femme with some dead-eyed Sten gun practice, working on his Parisian accent (“Québécois!” she sniffs, although “’Allo ’Allo!” is nearer the mark), and giving him lectures on the local mores. Moroccan men, we learn, always go to the roof after making love to their wives. To maintain their charade, Pitt is regularly sleeping under the stars.
While Cotillard is game as the steely-yet-vivacious Bonnie to Pitt’s more introspective Clyde, the only sparks that fly between them come during a slickly executed assassination sequence that recalls the climax of Inglourious Basterds. Unlike Allied’s obvious romantic touchpoints, from Casablanca to Notorious, this central pairing is hardly woozy with chemistry. Cotillard’s simmering intensity and Pitt’s more laconic charms rarely feel like natural bedfellows.
A more classical piece of filmmaking, shorn of bells and whistles.
Of course, though, it’s into bed they tumble in a second act that relocates them to Blitz-torn London and throws a Nazi agent into the mix. Here, Steven Knight’s (Peaky Blinders) script seems on a surer footing. The shadow of those great Hollywood classics gives way to a brisk spy-chase flick straight from the pages of a Jack Higgins or Ken Follett thriller as Pitt’s paymasters pick up the scent of Nazi espionage and the pair are jolted from their domestic idyll. There’s a marvellously nasty cameo by Simon McBurney as an anonymous intelligence wonk from the feared V Section. He does everything except hiss and shoot flames as he grills Vatan on the mole.
Where Allied works best is in testing the strength of its central relationship as it comes under greater duress. Can the two lovers ever entirely trust each other knowing they both lie for a living? Will the brutal facts of war prise apart their bonds of loyalty? And can they keep their chickens alive as the Luftwaffe bombs rain down?
Unlike his most recent period piece, high-wire thriller The Walk, Zemeckis keeps most of his technological toys in the box for this one. A more classical piece of filmmaking, shorn of bells and whistles, its show-stopping moment comes with a whirling camera move around a car caught in a desert sandstorm. A reminder of its maker’s formidable skills, it’s a rare bravura moment in a more workmanlike thriller.
Zemeckis’ old-school romance has its moments and Cotillard gives it her all, but it lacks the zip and chemistry to truly spark.