Film Review: Allied

A sexy and sophisticated espionage thriller, 'Allied''s various visual pleasures compensate for its somewhat uneven script. Robert Zemeckis’ best film since 'Cast Away' and 'What Lies Beneath.'
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Two giant, easy-on-the-eyes Hollywood stars. A dangerous mission. Luscious production design. And an impossible wartime love story, filled with passion and deception. Turns out they can make espionage thrillers like they used to. Well, at least to a degree, save for an uneven script.

“I keep the emotions real. I am very thorough. That’s why I’m still alive.” The expert World War II-era spy and resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) gently speaks these words in the early moments of Robert Zemeckis’ sexy and stylish Allied. The recipient of her words is her co-chameleon and partner-in-crime Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), the equally skilled Canadian pilot and secret agent who joins Marianne in 1942 French Morocco (which he coolly parachutes into) for a top-secret operation.

Marianne’s words are the backbone of Locke and Dirty Pretty Things writer Steven Knight’s sly yet somewhat shaky screenplay. In the clandestine world of Max and Marianne, who combine forces and practice cunning artistry in an occupied Casablanca to combat the threat of the Nazis and assassinate the German ambassador, diligence and credibility seem to be the only currencies of survival. The more they embellish their scenario with details, the more likely they are to survive.

As tempting as it is to label this film a World War II-era Mr. and Mrs. Smith, that analogy would be severely false, as Allied is instead a sophisticated Hitchcockian spy flick with outlandish visuals. Loosely inspired by the true story of two 1940s resistance fighters who met in the field and fell in love, it charts the undercover lives and, later on, marriage of Max and Marianne, who need to believably pose as a couple in order to attend a strictly A-list ball and gain unobstructed access to their target. While perfecting their act and getting to know each other against an unforgiving clock, the two enter an affair, going against all the common rules that apply to people of their profession. (The rule of thumb in espionage is simple: Don’t fall for your co-spy.) But love does its trick. Weeks after successfully completing their task, the couple move to a peaceful home in London, get married and start a serene life (as serene as the wartime circumstances allow).

And so kicks off the film’s second chapter of sorts: a family happily growing amid bombings and underneath deafening warplanes. Their bliss lasts only until Marianne’s potential status as a double agent is presented to Max one day by a high-ranking SOE Official (Simon McBurney). Introducing himself as a rat-catcher, he demands Max’s full cooperation in exposing Marianne’s true identity. If the suspicions are true, the nonnegotiable deal requires that Max kill Marianne with his own hands.

Sustaining this mystery doesn’t prove to be one of Allied’s strong suits: You can pretty much sniff the outcome from the onset. But what Zemeckis’ handsome production mishandles in its second chapter, it more than makes up for throughout the Casablanca scenes, where both Max and Marianne display a healthy dose of badass unflappability. Knight rushes through their foreplay scenes almost to a fault, instead of milking the duo’s delicious sexual tension further: We reach the London-set domestic scenes a bit too quickly. And once we arrive there, a certain level of inexplicable excess occurs. A disposable sister character (played by Lizzy Caplan) that doesn’t service the plot in any essential way is one example.

Still, Allied manages to remain stirring and pleasurable overall. Pitt and Cotillard sport a dizzying chemistry behind the prim and proper curtain of their respective characters and the formal façade of the espionage genre. Joanna Johnston, who deserves an Oscar (or at least a nomination) for her ravishing costume design, dresses Cotillard in a series of unforgettable ensembles that are surely soon to be timeless. (Pay special attention to the pale-green gown she effortlessly pulls off in one of the film’s key scenes.) But most importantly, Allied is a visually rich entertainment showcase for Robert Zemeckis. This popcorn flick lacks the genuine scares of What Lies Beneath and emotional weight of Cast Away, but it remains the celebrated filmmaker’s best film in a decade and a half.

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