Showbiz old timers believed any publicity was good publicity. Song-and-dance man George M. Cohan once famously bragged, “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.” Brad Pitt is a pretty easy name to spell and the press has been using it a lot lately but will the news surrounding his break up with Angelina Jolie and subsequent stories of FBI investigations (no charges were ever filed) have any effect on the box office appeal of his new movie “Allied.”
Casablanca, 1942. Pitt plays Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan, a deadly spy paired with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). They are to pose as husband and wife, infiltrate a high level Nazi gathering and assassinate the German ambassador. “Odds of surviving are 60 to 40%,” he says, “against.” They survive (not a spoiler: if they didn’t make it there’d be no movie), fall in love and are soon sharing the same next of kin in London as Max takes on a less rigorous and much safer desk job. Despite Max’s boss’s (Jared Harris) warning that “marriage made in the field don’t work,” the couple settle in, the very model of a nuclear family until a high ranking official (Simon McBurney), who calls himself “a rat catcher,” confronts Max with the words, “We believe your wife is a German spy.”
Pitt and Cotillard like they just walked out a 1942 issue of Silver Screen magazine. Add to that high end period details in the costumes and sets and you have a handsome movie, almost as good-looking as its two leads. That being said, it’s a shame the first hour doesn’t have the pop it needs to really make us care about the characters when the story swerves from wartime romance to personal espionage thriller.
Director Robert Zemeckis keep things interesting with several memorable action scenes. He may be making a war film that frequently feels like a homage to the classic movies of yore but he’s done it with a modern flair, including rougher language and sexuality. Marianne giving birth on a London street as bombs drop around her has the melodrama of an old time picture but a contemporary sensibility.
Anchoring all this beauty are strong performances from Pitt and Cotillard.
At its heart “Allied” a love story despite the bullets and bombs. Pitt plays Max as a stoic but lethal—watch him choke someone to death then shove a biscuit down his throat to make it look like and accident—but most importantly, he’s a man in love. When he is told his wife may be a spy he says, “It’ll be OK because it’s not true,” but the moments of self doubt that wash across his face tell the real story. In his third war flick (following “Inglourious Basterds” and “Fury”) he’s torn between love and duty and Pitt infuses the performance with an appropriate amount of pathos.
Cotillard has the less flashy role, particularly in the second half but gives this femme fatale a real live beating heart that elevates her from stereotype to thoroughly current and exciting character.
“Allied” is really two movies—a “Casablanca” style romance and a spy thriller—bound together by Zemeckis’s adherence to classic filmmaking and the love story that provides the heart.