Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is a Canadian spy and fighter pilot loaned out to the British RAF in the early days of World War II for a dangerous mission in French Morocco (Casablanca, to be exact). He’s teamed up with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), an undercover French resistance officer, to play socialite husband and wife in order to get close to a major Nazi target and assassinate him. Their plan goes smoothly, and in the process Max and Marianne develop romantic feelings for each other. Upon heading back to England, the pair marries and have a child together, but when key information about Marianne’s past surfaces, Max is forced to question if his new wife is who she appears to be.
Yet another film where Pitt plays a World War II Nazi hunting heroic type, Robert Zemeckis’ Allied entertains in its second half, but never feels like a fully cohesive final product. The spy mission that brings Max and Marianne together in the first place is dishwater dull and takes up the entire first half of the film. The second half of Allied, where Max’s superiors suspect Marianne of being a Nazi mole is a lot sillier of a film, packed to bursting with red herrings and obvious plot holes, provided by prolific hit-or-miss screenwriter Steven Knight who’s great when he’s on top of his game (Locke, Eastern Promises) and dreadful while off it (Burnt, Pawn Sacrifice).
The first hour of rather generic tropes where Marianne basically has to talk Max through the motions of being a spy has more obvious action beats, but also underwhelms in every other respect. Partly to blame for the early overall stagnancy of Allied is Zemeckis (whose C.V. should need no introduction by now). The director clearly wants to mount a classically influenced World War II drama, doing his best to emphasize the look of smoky nightclubs, dusty marketplaces, and good looking people that are far too old to be playing these characters captured in soft focus to distract from the amount of make-up they’re wearing. None of it is particularly entertaining, and the phase where Max and Marianne are getting to know one another is positively somnambulant, with the audience learning precious little about each character, save for the fact that Max has an obsession with retiring early and buying a ranch in Medicine Hat. Zemeckis has always had a sometimes annoying knack for placing his own technical desires for a film over the emotional needs of the material, and the first half of Allied might be one of the worst examples of this tendency.
Also, for all the hemming and hawing that gossip rags have done about a potential fling between the two stars, it’s equally disappointing to note that for the first hour the actors have as much chemistry together as a snow plow and a Rubik’s Cube placed side by side on a beach completely out of context. Neither of them is particularly bad on their own, but they never feel like they’re in the same film. They barely ever make eye contact, their personalities are way off from how the characters are written, and Pitt often plays like he’s too cool and suave for her, which again, isn’t how this is written to be played. There should be some shred of attraction, and by the time the couple finally hooks up (somewhat hilariously having sex in a car amid a sandstorm) the viewer has little clue why they would hop into bed with each other outside of the fact that they could end up dead the next day, which is a classic World War II picture trope, but makes no sense here.
But once the action shifts to Pitt and Cotillard’s martial and familial bliss at their North London estate, Zemeckis, Pitt, and Cotillard ditch the stuffiness for a fun, but highly illogical yarn. The chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard strengthens here because Knight’s screenplay finally incorporates a healthy dose of levity into the material that the actors seize upon immediately. The start to embrace the silliness of it all, and Zemeckis gives them plenty of colourful, potentially suspect supporting characters to surround themselves with (including Jared Harris as Max’s constantly glowering superior and Lizzy Caplan as his lesbian sister and fellow soldier). A scene where a worried Max awaits a phone call while staring at what might be the world’s loudest ticking alarm clock is particularly silly, but I get the sense that it’s meant to be. That silly tone is also more suited for the kind of film that Zemeckis is trying to make. He’s awful here with the romantic elements, but just fine with the goofy popcorn theatrics.
The set-up is too serious for its own good, but the second half offers up some much needed camp relief to send the film out on a relatively high note; one that’s never really in doubt and is predicated upon a plot hole so maddening that the mind boggles as to how it was left in there. Still, in terms of entertainment value, it works just fine. That still doesn’t justify the languorous opening hour that thinks its developing character, when in reality it’s just wasting a lot of time because none of it will matter and very little of it will come up again. The first half wants to be Casablanca styled prestige picture so badly that everyone involved feels the need to underline it. The second half wants to be a lightweight B-picture from a bygone era. The best thing I can say for people who want to see Allied is that you could probably walk in an hour late, enjoy what you see, and not feel like you remotely missed anything.