Let’s get that damn elephant out of the room. The private lives of our silver screen stars theoretically have no place in the judgement of the cinematic products we consume, but it’s hard to deny that Robert Zemeckis’ World War II espionage drama Allied could possibly fend off the unfortunate brunt of the Brangelina divorce, the two astronomic Hollywood stars whose sparks of coupling first ignited in a spy caper that Zemeckis’ film very much structurally resembles with, Mr & Mrs Smith. Two movies featuring spy couples and their indefinite duplicities may prove far too much of a coincidence, but nonetheless forever go down in the history of film as the beginning and end of the Brangelina story.
But for those less bothered with pulpy, tabloid-worthy prattle and more concerned with the Art of Filmmaking, you’d be pleased to know that Allied is far from the disaster as you’ve probably heard from the unreliable grapevine. In fact, it oozes and exudes old-school Hollywood prestige, knowingly pitched at those who know their Notorious from Casablanca – a wartime espionage romantic drama that’s closer in spirit to Michael Curtiz and Alfred Hitchcock than Doug Liman. For Allied is not exactly the action spy thriller you’d come to expect (save for one scene that sees Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard gunning down a Nazi party à la Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds), 90% of Allied is all brooding, teasing, paranoia-inducing drama involving two undercover agents who come to realise they are humans, too, and therefore fall in love, get married, have a baby, and like all married couples, question each other’s allegiances.
Allied oozes and exudes old-school Hollywood prestige, knowingly pitched at those who know their Notorious from Casablanca – a wartime espionage romantic drama that’s closer in spirit to Michael Curtiz and Alfred Hitchcock than Doug Liman.
Bond aside, there aren’t really many movies right now that make spying look this glamourous, daahhling. It’s set in an era where very-important-peeps hang out in local Moroccan gin joints in fabulous silken frocks and devastatingly sartorial beige suits. So it gives Pitt and Cotillard the opportunity to swagger around the Casablanca town circa 1942 in haute couture just like Humphrey and Ingrid did in their heyday, something that Zemeckis knowingly repurposes in the film’s romantic first half where the play-acting lovers, the Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan and French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour, fool the entire Nazi-run complex and perhaps even themselves.
It’s here that Zemeckis impressively succeeds in capturing that gloriously old-fashioned Hollywood romance that seems like an afterthought these days (the steamy sex scene in a car during a sandstorm, despite the blasted CGI sand, manages to be as important a sex scene as Jack and Rose in Titanic, you guys). Which is a shame because soon after Max and Marianne blew a bit of North Africa, the cast of Allied moves to blitzkrieg London and the film slides down to baffling mediocrity where Zemeckis stages a birthing scene under an air strike that has the cloying quality of a Sainsbury’s ad.
Pitt, with all his dashing good looks and World War II-movie experience with Inglourious Basterds and Fury under his belt, looks at home in this milieu, if not a touch bored. His character Max is required to do some heavy dramatic lifting as a husband whose certitude has been shaken, and yet Pitt internalises his performance far too much that emotions barely touch the surface. Thank goodness, then, for Cotillard who provides Allied some much needed élan, not only looking effortlessly chic in soirées but also competent in devilish banters and deft with machine guns. What is more, even when Marianne becomes a figure of suspicion, Cotillard manages to slip manifold layers of emotions behind a mere glimpse, or a smile. Ultimately, Zemeckis’ film works because of his leading lady, with Cotillard working that Lauren Bacall feistiness crossed with an Ingrid Bergman melancholia right through its heartbreaking final scene, where the lovers will always have Casablanca.