Opening on the golden sands of the Moroccan desert during World War II, Allied brings to mind Casablanca or The English Patient – and that’s the problem. It has the right look and certain elements of other wartime romances and espionage thrillers but ultimately seems more of a pastiche than a satisfying whole.
Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Flight, The Walk) is skilled at stories set on a grand scale. But the original screenplay by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke, Peaky Blinders) bites off more than it can handle by combining what separately would be two compelling stories. First, it drops Canadian intelligence officer and pilot Max (Brad Pitt) into 1941 Casablanca to meet French Resistance fighter Marianne (Marion Cotillard), who poses as his wife on a deadly mission.
“We should talk and laugh,” Marianne says after they kiss under watchful eyes.
“We’re married,” Max replies. “Why would we laugh?”
As shown in the trailer, the two soon marry for real, and the film then takes on a new plot: Max suspecting his wife is in fact a German spy.
How well can two people really know each other, especially when they lie and pretend for a living? The title and some of the dialogue hint at deeper questions about marriage, relationships, and the toxicity of doubt.
But the chemistry is off. Oscar-winner Cotillard (La Vie en Rose), playing a woman described as the life of the party, lives up to that label, her expressive eyes full of vivaciousness and mischief. Pitt has suited up for this era twice previously, in 2014’s Fury and 2009’s Inglorious Basterds, but he comes across as flat here. Granted, his character is meant to be more reserved, but when his sister (Lizzy Caplan of TV’s Masters of Sex) compliments Marianne for melting her brother’s icy resolve, he still seems pretty frosty.
The production design and art direction are beautifully detailed, whether creating the rooftops of Casablanca, a swanky nightclub, an intelligence office, or a cozy country home. Likewise, the period costumes are gorgeous.
But the script is light on details that would clarify the stakes and enhance the tension. World War II has long had a cinematic mystique, and stories set in this era are in vogue again, with Anthropoid out earlier this year and The Zookeeper’s Wife on the way in March. But given that we’re roughly seventy years away from the end of the war, audiences might need a refresher in history. We don’t learn why Max and Marianne need to pull off their original assignment, what information the Germans are getting from whoever’s supplying it – or why they fall for each other so quickly. All the hallmarks are there of a sweeping romantic drama; unfortunately, they’re just on the surface.