Gareth Negus watches Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard share a special relationship in World War II drama, Allied. That’s an actual line from the film, by the way.
Robert Zemeckis came to fame as a filmmaker with a string of crowd pleasing hits that you might, were you the sort of person who can only name three directors, assume had been made by his frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg – fast-paced, effects-heavy 80s favourites like Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He later embraced motion capture but, as that turned out to not quite be the future just yet, he has lately returned to flesh and blood actors. Most recently, The Walk combined old-fashioned based-on-a-true-story filmmaking with shiny 3D; Allied looks further back.
A romantic thriller set during World War II, it seems happily indebted to Hollywood dramas of decades past; setting your first act in 1940s Casablanca is just inviting comparisons. I must report that you may find yourself pining for Bogart and Bergman.
The film opens with Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into Morocco to meet French resistance member Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard). Posing as husband and wife, their mission is to get invited to the right party and assassinate the German ambassador. While playing the loving couple in public, they are cool – even frosty – and professional in private. Nevertheless, sexual tension does begin to simmer, despite Marianne’s tendency to slip red flag bon mots such as “the mistake people in our line of work make isn’t fucking, it’s feeling” into conversation.
The second act takes us to London, as Max impulsively proposes and the couple settle down and have a daughter. All seems fine until Max is informed that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy, and that if this turns out to be the case, he is expected to kill her.
Having the suspense turn on the question of Marianne’s true motives obliges Cotillard to simultaneously play the part as though she could be in love with Max, or could be a spy faking it, or could be a spy who really is in love with Max. It’s hard to see how anyone could approach the role other than by being very enigmatic indeed; unfortunately Cotillard is so inscrutable that it makes their supposedly passionate relationship look anything but. Things pick up in the final stages, once the truth has emerged; we’re even able to see some scenes from Marianne’s point of view (it’s been all about Max prior to this). Whether the lack of chemistry between the leads is built in to the screenplay, or whether Cotillard and Pitt just weren’t feeling it on set, we’re left with a hole in the centre of the film where the leads’ burning passion should be.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of stuff around the edges to enjoy. The director’s history of digital effects is evident throughout, but – aside from a distractingly show-offy scene in a car in the middle of a sandstorm – it’s pleasingly restrained. There are some excellent recreations of the blitz (and, no doubt, plenty of tweaks to the locations that I didn’t recognise as effects). I usually pay little attention to clothes in films, but everybody seems very nicely dressed here, and the locations are gorgeous.
While the film doesn’t reach the heights to which it aspires, it’s never less than watchable – and it is good to see a mainstream Hollywood film offering this kind of lovingly crafted, old-fashioned escapism.
Allied is in UK cinemas from Friday.