★ ★ ★ ★
Who says they don’t make ’em like they used to? Allied, Robert Zemeckis’ slow-burning World War II espionage thriller, is a terrific throwback to the kinds of romantic war dramas that directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Curtiz, and William Wyler churned out in the 1940s (although this one has more sex and violence). From the period-perfect production design to the flawless retro costumes to the measured buildup of suspense, Allied is a movie that will appeal to not just the TCM crowd, but anyone looking for a sweeping adventure set against the backdrop of war-torn Europe. It’s a shame it wasn’t filmed in black-and-white.
Allied begins with Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into the Moroccan desert. A car appears from out of the dust to take him to a ritzy Casablanca gin joint, where he’s been instructed to meet a beautiful woman in a purple dress. She’s French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), who has been assigned to pose as his wife. She’s been working undercover for weeks in order to get chummy with the Vichy locals and finagle an invitation to a party being thrown by the Nazis, during which she and Max are to assassinate a German ambassador. When Max and Marianne first lock eyes with each other, sparks fly. Although they have never met before, they’re convincing as a couple deeply in love. And they’d better be believable, because their lives depend on it. In the days leading up to the deadly assignment, the two feel one another out. At first, he’s all business and no play, while she’s serious and a bit world-weary, yet still flirtatious. She explains that she’s so convincing to her newfound friends because she genuinely likes them. “I keep the emotions real,” she says, “that’s why it works.” Max soon falls for her coquettish nature, and after they successfully complete their mission, the pair relocate to London, marry, and have a child. But her earlier words come back to haunt Max when he is summoned to meet with a high-ranking military “rat catcher” (a no-nonsense Simon McBurney), who informs him that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy. And if she is, Max is ordered to kill her or be hanged himself for treason. He then sets off to uncover the truth, regardless of the cost.
Allied pulls you in through its rich characterizations, exotic settings, and intriguing “is she or isn’t she?” plot; that may sound old hat, but it’s spiced up nicely here to great effect. Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Flight) and screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Burnt) delve deeply into Max and Marianne’s relationship early on, expertly laying the groundwork for all that follows. It’s a slow setup, but the payoff is worth it: We begin to care about these two war-damaged souls, which makes the alarming accusation against Marianne all the more troubling when it comes. Of course, none of this would work if Pitt and Cotillard didn’t have real onscreen chemistry. It goes without saying that they have Tinseltown beauty to spare, and they’ve never looked more debonair or more like movie stars than they do here. They may not be Bogart and Bergman, but then who are?
For moviegoers weary of superheroes, wizards, and trolls, Allied offers great grown-up entertainment bathed in old Hollywood glamour and style. It’s a gin joint worth walking into.