by Hope Madden
In turns grand and intimate, Allied blends pulp and melodrama with old Hollywood glamour.
We open on a dashing Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), landing in a North African desert where he’ll be met by a mysterious driver delivering his new identity. Vatan will join French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca on a mission to assassinate a Nazi official.
Director Robert Zemeckis’s vintage spy thriller begins with a bang. Stylish and gorgeous, the first act embraces an old-fashioned dazzle that suits both Pitt and Cotillard.
Problems arise – for Vatan and Beausejour, as well as the film – once the couple relocates to London. Vatan takes a desk job with the Royal Air Force while his new wife and child wait lovingly at home. But when command turns up evidence that Marianne could be a German spy, this ideal life begins to crack.
Both Cotillard and Pitt perform respectably with a script involving tensions that reach toward the ludicrous. Pitt carries himself with a weird stiffness, but his face wears joy, weariness and emotional tumult in a way that the actor has rarely managed.
Cotillard is characteristically excellent, her own demeanor turning the edge of every expression with a hint of something sour. She is effortlessly mysterious, a characteristic required for the part.
Steven Knight’s screenplay loses momentum once the couple settles into their homey London life, and for all Zemeckis’s visual wizardry, the balance of the film never recaptures the thrill of their early adventures.
Instead, we settle for several gloriously shot sequences – a love scene inside a car beset by a sandstorm, a party interrupted by an air raid. But even the tensest late-film moments feel staged, even borrowed.
Knight’s writing tends to play better with grittier, more street-savvy direction (think Eastern Promises or Dirty Pretty Things), but Zemeckis likes a big stage. The result, though often entertaining because of solid performances, is too much of a mishmash to really work.