Is there some great unslaked popular hankering for a wartime romance along the lines of Casablanca? If so, Allied is unlikely to satisfy it. The movie actually begins in Casablanca, but that’s as far as the resemblance goes. And while the picture recalls the Nazi-infested marital intrigue of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 Notorious, it’s probably best not to get your hopes up in that regard either. The story is initially set in French Morocco in 1942, and the production details—the dusty cafés, the chattery cocktail soirées, the roomy suits and sleek satin dresses—are period perfect. But the whole movie feels like an homage, and apart from some effective jabs of action, it plods.
Brad Pitt, looking as if he just wandered in from his last domestic glumfest, By the Sea, plays Max Vatan, an Allied intelligence officer who’s just parachuted into North Africa to hook up with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard). Their assignment is to take out a German ambassador at an embassy ball. To do this, they pose as man and wife. This could create complications, obviously, but Marianne is a pro at feigning genuine feelings: “I keep the emotions real,” she says. “That’s how it works.” The plot starts ticking.
There’s quite a bit of talking here, and quite a bit of it’s in French, in which Pitt, longtime owner of a Provençal wine chateau, acquits himself well enough to fool me, at any rate. Before the movie gets too bogged down in smoochy banter, though, Max gets rumbled by an Abwehr thug in a café and has to improvise an execution (a scene of nice compact nastiness). Then it’s on to the embassy ball, where he and Marianne whip out Sten guns and mow down many Nazis, the ambassador among them. Max is impressed. He asks Marianne to return with him to England and become his wife. She agrees, and soon they’re settled in London. They have their own chickens, and before long they have a baby girl, too.
Then there’s trouble. Max is summoned by a superior officer (Jared Harris) to a meeting with a steely intel operative (Simon McBurney), who informs him that German spy messages have been detected emanating from his area of the city. If Marianne is determined to be the source of these, Max will be required to execute her personally. Max can’t believe his wife is a spy, and in order to prove she isn’t, he makes a dangerous trip to occupied France to find a man who knew her in the French Resistance—or at least knew a woman with her name. Things get complicated, let’s leave it at that.
Director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) uses digital effects in at least one novel way (there’s a hot-sex scene in a car with a CGI sandstorm blowing around outside that has to be seen to be giggled at), and he does what he can to build tension into this is-she-or-isn’t-she story. But by the time the big question is finally answered, Pitt and Cotillard have expended most of their minimal chemistry and the plot has become such a slog that it’s hard to care much one way or the other. Which, you may recall, is not the way this sort of thing used to be done.