Robert Zemeckis’ new live action film, “Allied,” opens with Brad Pitt’s character, Max Vatan, parachuting into French Morocco in 1942. He lands in the desert and is quickly picked up and brought to Casablanca. A spy, once in the city he meets his “wife” for the mission, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), and they proceed in an attempt to achieve their goal.
The landing doesn’t look entirely real, but it still all makes for an engaging way to open the movie. It is exciting and enjoyable. The two leads make for a great pair as spies on an equal footing. Max has the ability to stage someone else’s death and Marianne offers an intricate knowledge of plans and procedures in the city as well as a sense of fearlessness. There is a give and take between the characters and that, combined with the action and excitement, makes the movie soar.
All too soon though, it’s over. The mission ends and the two move to London, predictably, and desperately, in love. A daughter soon arrives and it is at this moment that things start going less well. Rather than taking part in any more missions, Marianne becomes a housewife, rather than Cotillard remaining on equal footing with Pitt, she is relegated to second fiddle.
“Allied” doesn’t just become rather less engaging when this happens. It becomes more disappointing in how it strives for engagement. Rather than being a tale of two people fighting the Nazis, it becomes a tale of one (Max) suspecting the other (Marianne) of being a Nazi. Max is told as much by his superiors and is to take part in a test of her loyalty. He is also told to not dig into her past on his own. You can guess what happens with this last order.
Pitt remains excellent here as a man desperately in love with the woman he thought he knew and determined to find out the truth as quickly as possible, even if it means disobeying direct orders to get an answer 12 hours earlier. The issue is not with him or his character, it is rather on the amount of time devoted to his side of the story.
To be fair, even the Casablanca elements aren’t perfect. Inexplicably Max’s cover demands that he not speak English, but he does so with windows open in their apartment and on the roof when they know people are watching (and presumably doing their best to listen in). One Nazi commander, to be sure that Max really works in phosphate mining, asks Max to write the chemical formula for phosphate. Was the Nazi’s thought really that a spy might be so obtuse as to not have done basic research into his cover story? “Allied” offers head fakes towards cleverness, but never truly strives to head in that direction.
The Casablanca moments in the film overcome this and still work because the two characters make for a great pair. They function well together, they can take on any odds, are (relatively) smart about the world, and are quite the dynamic duo. Excising Marianne’s agency after the move to London—which must account for two-thirds or more of the film—causes the whole thing to stumble.
The biggest mystery to be uncovered, and one which “Allied” doesn’t address, isn’t the truth about Marianne’s loyalties, but rather why she has completely and totally gone from working, from fighting the good fight against the Nazis to being a housewife (no knee jerk “well that’s what women do” is even offered, perhaps because that answer would get the film laughed out of existence). It is 1944 at this moment in the film and there is a lot of work to be done in the lead up to the D-Day invasion. There are even rumors of the allies needing someone to lead resistance in France during the invasion. Why would a former French rebel resistance leader in London not have been a part of these discussions? We know that Marianne has whatever clearance is necessary to run spy ops because we watched her in Casablanca.
These issues take “Allied” from an excellent film down to something far closer to passable. There is still some great cinematography throughout, and even relegated to a supporting role, Cotillard is brilliant. So too is Jared Harris as Max’s boss, and Lizzy Caplan appears all-too-irregularly as Max’s sister, but is great every time she is present.
“Allied” feels very much like a bait-and-switch of a movie, initially offering up the tale of a pair of great spies working together only to turn into something much more mundane and much less well-considered.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures