Allied is an injection-filled wartime romance in the classic mold that can’t help but feel like a loving but noticeably artificial knock-off.
Maybe its the CG-augmented opening shot of a rolling desert, straight out of Lawrence of Arabia, or the cinematically-significant setting — Casablanca no less, known equally for the city and the film that inspired the name of this very site — that director Robert Zemeckis shoots sweepingly but without particular character. In any case, Allied might well have benefited atmospherically from a bit more time on a studio back-lot.
Instead of Rick and Ilsa we have Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a Canadian Intelligence officer posing as the Parisian husband of Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in order for them to carry out the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi official. With his slick blonde hair and open handsome face, Pitt has retained his Redfordian good looks, but, like the film itself, they carry the memory of glories past imperfectly preserved. Cotillard is sultry and mysterious with a touch of hidden vulnerability, just as the role demands, but the film largely leaves her as a cipher — indeed the plot depends on it.
With a successfully executed (pun intended) mission under their belts, as well as a car-bound, sand-blasted sex scene that’ll make you long for the Hays Code, the two decamp for a life of domestic bliss in idyllic Hampstead. When Max is approached with evidence that Marianne, now his wife and mother to their child, is a German spy, and ordered help set a trap — and indeed kill her should she fall into it — Max directly disobeys orders in trying to uncover the truth for himself; no matter the cost.
Despite what would seem to a tale ready-made for heartbreak and intrigue, Stephen Knight’s script never delves into the emotional morass that the situation promises. Instead we get a series of familiar faces — Jared Harris as the sardonic British superior; Matthew Goode as a scarred, embittered former agent — and types — the genial best friend, the cheery nanny — but Allied refuses to flesh them out or else go full-on Tinker, Tailor and treat them as would-be traitors.
Trying to be both pulpy and weighty, glib and sincere, the film refuses to take its shots or, unlike its two leads, has a habit of missing them. Even a not-so casual chat with a Nazi bureaucrat that should carry a frisson of danger is dealt with through some impressive card shuffling and basic cover work. For every truly tense moment, including an impeccable one involving a phone call, there’s another that feels like a gloss.
Allied relies on Max and Marianne’s love being one for the ages. The press was certainly sold on Pitt & Cotillard as a couple, but, like Rick and the waters of Casablanca, it seems they were misinformed.