In the early years of the Second World War, Canadian intelligence operative Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is sent to Casablanca where he meets his liaison, a French Resistance fighter who’s infiltrated the local society called Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). Working together on their secret mission, they soon fall in love and later marry. However the relationship becomes a lot more tenuous, at least for Max, when his superiors inform him Marianne may be a German spy. So Max in secret tries to dig up proof that his wife is who she says she is and save her from execution if she’s proven guilty.
This movie is clearly drawing a lot of influence from classical cinema, especially Casablanca. A number of moments in the first act which is entirely set in Casablanca, as well as even in the latter half feel like almost direct parallels to that film. I can’t blame Allied too much as Casablanca is the gold standard for war-time romances. But there are a few moments where the similarities are distracting. For the most part the film overcomes this thanks to a pretty good tension-fuelled plot. There are a few scenes early on where the threat of exposure creeps up on our heroes, but it’s in the latter parts when the evidence builds up to implicate Marianne that you’re really kept attentive and very engaged with what happens next. Especially when certain developments make you second guess what the outcome will be.
But this film probably wouldn’t pull any of this off if not for the terrific chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard. Pitt’s performance is smooth as always, but with a sincerity that makes his heartbreak at the idea of his wife being a spy convincing. And Marion Cotillard is not only stunning, but superbly committed, both in her skilled covert work in Casablanca, as well as her subtle suggestions of a duplicitous nature conveyed purely through the strength of her physical performance. The two work with each other very well and their romance comes off as very genuine. It’s built slowly which can dull the films’ overall pace but it makes you all the more invested when it looks like Marianne may have been faking her feelings the whole time. Though the film is concerned with these two front and centre, there are still good performances from a bevy of supporting players including Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Anton Lesser, Matthew Goode, and Lizzy Caplan.
Zemeckis directs with confidence, knowing just when to focus on the characters and the circumstances. The cinematography is very good too, taking advantage of the ravaged London during an air raid, or the beauty of the deserts of Morocco. There’s one scene (a sex scene if you must know) that is shot with a surprising combination of intimacy and claustrophobia that stands out. And one thing I never thought would stick out to me about this kind of film is the costuming which is really appropriate for the period, but nonetheless radiant, especially on Cotillard. Again, it feels very much a callback to classic romances in this regard. Throughout the movie though there is definite melodrama to the romance, and for some it may be a little much. I don’t mind it for the most part, but by the end it is overdone and is trying too hard to again feel like a classic movie.
If you’re a fan of war-time romances, Allied is probably one you’re going to like. And it has an interesting conflict and theme of how much you can trust someone. If you don’t care so much for this kind of film, you still may enjoy it for the expert direction, great performances, and well-executed tension. It may not be what its filmmakers’ intended, one of the best films of the year, but it is an engaging movie with more than a few reasons to see. I can assure you despite all the comparisons because of a similar set-up and leading man, it’s much a better movie than Mr. and Mrs. Smith.