It’s impossible to not compare “Allied” with the award-winning 1943 classic, “Casablanca.” That’s because “Allied” is set in 1942 French Morocco during the African campaign of World War II. The comparison is unfortunate, though, because “Allied” can’t possibly live up to such lofty expectations. Still, it’s a worthwhile film, ably directed by Robert Zemeckis, even with its shortcomings.
It begins interestingly enough with Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting onto Moroccan sand dunes, which sets a visual tone with Don Burgess’ beautiful cinematography.
Max, a Quebecois in British intelligence, meets up with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a French spy. The two convincingly pretend to be married, successfully infiltrate the occupying Germans, and assassinate the Nazi ambassador.
Thankfully, we aren’t subjected to the full Monty of Nazi horrors — we’re allowed to just ‘get’ it. Still, while we ‘get’ the killing of a Nazi is a good thing, where this particular caper played into the larger scheme of things wasn’t meaningfully answered. Had it been, it might’ve been a more interesting spy story, thriller, or war flick. Instead, the story is left hanging.
As inevitably happen, the make-believe couple soon find themselves in a real-life romance. They make love in a car in the desolation of the dessert as a torrent of sand storms by.
Fast-forward to London, under a seemingly perpetual air raid, where Max marries Marianne, against the advice of his friend, George (Daniel Betts). Jump to Marianne giving birth outdoors to a healthy baby girl during a bombing campaign. The happy couple settle into a routine with their daughter, Max still working for British intelligence.
Everything’s copacetic except for the gratuitously scripted misfits in their lives, like Max’s sister, Bridget (Lizzy Caplan), who is apparently a lesbian; and friends, who like to copulate in tight places and snort the drug du jour in conspicuous spots. Naturally, this happiness doesn’t last.
Max is told by his superior, General Frank Heslop (Jared Harris) and a high-ranking intelligence officer, (Simon McBurney) that they believe Marianne is a Nazi spy after they traced her communications. Obviously, Max doesn’t believe them, but is forced to agree to a plan to find out. He is forbidden to tell anyone about the test or he’ll be hanged. If she’s guilty, he will have to execute her himself. There are some tense, suspenseful moments as the test is underway.
It is here we rewind the first act in our minds looking for clues. Why, we wonder, would she have shot Nazis in Casablanca with Max if she was a Nazi sympathizer? There’s an answer to it all, but how satisfying it is can be open to reasonable inquiry.
As planned, Max receives a phone call late at night and writes down the false message designed to be a plant to see if Marianne discloses the information to the Nazis.
Max then investigates, despite being warned against it, by interrogating a tormented and mutilated British pilot, and getting another killed in France before finally traveling there himself.
We learn the truth about Marianne’s identity and loyalty. Spoiler alert: it’s predictable. The ending is a bit of a cop out, with a kind-ish gesture by someone at the end. The tagged scenes with the voiceover of Marianne explaining herself to her older daughter was oddly both poignant and banal at the same time.
How a story is framed largely dictates our expectations, and in “Allied,” it’s easier to be a bit disappointed if you view it as a spy story/thriller or a war film, but when you look at it as a love story, a genre I generally loathe, it exceeds hopes. This may be explained in part by the amount of time it takes to establish the relationship and to get it into place for a third act setup.
The script by Steven Knight was good, but might have been more suspenseful had the Nazi operation been a more intricate one with the Max/Marianne relationship juxtaposed during the operation’s execution, with her true identity and loyalty being questioned right before the operation is to be completed, leaving its success dependent on how Max responds under the circumstances. Here, tighter compression of time would have aided the movie.
Romantic relationships usually take time to credibly establish in movies. Throw a baby into the wash, more time goes down the drain. But if you just accept it as a love story that happens to be set in an interesting locale and historical period at the outset, it’s a more enjoyable cinematic experience. And this was about as period-perfect a film as can be made.
I don’t rate with stars. Instead, I use the simple method of saying whether or not a flick was worth a Hamilton, or the price of a theater ticket. This was worth a Hamilton.