Brad Pitt has obviously taken a keen interest in the milieu of the World War II film, having starred in “Inglorious Basterds,” “Fury” and now “Allied.” But while the previous two focused on the grimy battlefield relationships of men, the quieter “Allied” takes on the tussle of intimate partnership in times of war. This one is especially complicated since the couple met as spies posing as man and wife.
It’s fair to draw a line between 2005’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” in which Pitt and Angelina Jolie starred as a pair of married spies, and “Allied,” in which he stars with Marion Cotillard as a pair of married spies. With that context, and a seductive introduction in Casablanca, Morocco, one expects “Allied,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, to be a dose of sexy, dangerous, globe-trotting glamour.
Pitt is Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan, dispatched to Morocco to liaise with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) in a plot to take out the Nazi ambassador. Acting as a pair of married Parisians, the duo discover real feelings for each other. “I keep the emotions real,” Marianne says of her successful undercover tactics.
Soon the couple is in London, shacking up with their new baby while Max takes a desk job. Within a year, British intelligence is questioning Marianne’s identity and asking Max to test his wife, leaving out false information to see if she passes it along.
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The gorgeous stars, sumptuous costuming and exotic period setting that we’re initially promised are a bit of a bait-and-switch from what “Allied” turns out to be. The movie is too sad and too dark to fulfill the fantasy that is laid out in the first part of the film, which is a nod to realism and nuance on the part of Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight. But that doesn’t make for a film that’s necessarily any fun to watch.
The muted palette, methodical plotting and concealed emotions make for a film that slowly simmers instead of reaching a roiling boil of drama. When you expect the film to pop, it narrowly averts any extremes or action. Part of this is due to the identification with Max as the main character — Pitt plays him so steadily that he’s stiff, and the performance is near wooden.
There are a few compelling sequences. A mission behind enemy lines in France where Max flies to question a one-armed drunk about his wife’s identity is suspenseful and exciting, but ends with a sense of dark violence and nihilism that wafts over the entire film like a fog. There are also a few baffling moments as well, such as their daughter’s birth outside on the streets of London during an air raid, which tests the suspension of disbelief. Lizzy Caplan is given truly short shrift (and an atrocious wig) in an all-too-underdeveloped role as Max’s lesbian sister.
There’s a poignancy to the underlying themes about marital trust — can you ever really know the entirety of the person that you marry? What makes a marriage that is founded on deceit? Is love more important than country? Zemeckis and Knight scale these large ideas down to a manageable story in “Allied,” but they don’t draw out enough emotion to make it truly effective and emotionally wrenching, despite the rafts of sorrow in which it’s steeped.
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Caplan, Jared Harris, August Diehl, Matthew Goode.
Director: Robert Zemeckis.
Running time: 2:04.
Rated: R, for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use.