Picture-perfect: Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt play spies and war-crossed lovers in the Robert Zemeckis suspense thriller Allied.

 

Is ‘Allied’ the movie that broke up Brangelina?
THE X-PAT FILES - Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2016 - 12:00am

Allied, the Robert Zemeckis WWII love story replete with German spies and suspicious moments, may go down in memory as the film that split up Brangelina. A rumored tryst between stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose, Inception) could have played a role in the D-I-V-O-R-C-E between male star Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

But the film is a bit better than a mere Hollywood footnote. Crisply shot and outfitted, it’s a stylish war drama cut to the cloth of Casablanca and maybe Hitchcock’s Notorious, though never as masterful in its wit or execution.

The film even mentions Casablanca several times — the city in Morocco, not the classic war film starring Bogie and Bergman — in laying out its storyline set behind enemy lines. Pitt plays Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer who parachutes into the French Moroccan desert in 1942 (shades of The English Patient) and meets up with his counterpart French contact, resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard). His French is atrocious, or at least not Parisian enough, Marianne quickly informs him; and if they are to pose as husband and wife on this anti-Nazi mission, he’d better start learning to offer her a cigarette first before lighting his own.

This kind of deft interplay works well in Allied, and actual chemistry does spark between the leads, though with Pitt it’s awfully muted (the dermatologists and amateur dermas in my presence at the cinema said he’s probably had fillers in his face to preserve smoothness). In truth, the film itself is awfully muted, despite some fine action sequences, lovemaking scenes and set pieces. It has an air of impending doom hanging over it, which neither Casablanca nor Hitchcock would allow to be telegraphed from the get-go.

We are caught up in Max and Marianne’s foreign affairs, as they play husband and wife on a Moroccan rooftop and finagle an invite to an exclusive Nazi cocktail party from a suspicious SS officer (August Diehl, who was born to play suspicious SS officers, cf. Inglourious Basterds) to complete their mission. A fun scene involves Cotillard trying to test Pitt’s focus on the mission by undoing the top buttons on her blouse over a breakfast table. He passes, barely.

In between, they fall in love, and there’s one dizzying, vertigo-inducing sex scene set in the front seat of a car in the middle of a sandstorm (Titanic has nothing on this one); later they marry and have a daughter and continue fighting Nazis from their London home base. You can tell the domestic bliss will smack up against reality soon enough.

It’s interesting that the male-female spy roles in Allied might have, a few years back, instead been essayed by Pitt and Jolie as a team, resurrecting their Mr. and Mrs. Smith pairing, the one that reportedly led to the affair that broke up Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston. As with all things in Hollywood, eventually everything comes full circle. Even the movies.

Zemeckis, working from a script by Stephen Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Locke), fashions a credible pastiche of war romance movies. It lacks the passion of, say, The End of the Affair or even The English Patient, but Cotillard certainly supplies enough emotion to overcome Pitt’s stolid reserve. Shot mostly in London, the look of Morocco does bring to mind war-era Casablanca, while the London scenes contrast pastoral idylls in English gardens, periodically interrupted by aerial raids and the occasional sputtering Nazi plane crashing into a nearby field.

You can tell Zemeckis wants to play both to the seriousness of the wartime “affair” as well as his Hollywood instinct to make large things go boom. There are a few scenes in which Nazis are gunned down in large number, presumably to show that Max is a hard-ass fighting machine, beneath his soft spot for Marianne.

As with Hitchcock, Zemeckis gets us to see things from our hero’s perspective: he is being given mixed messages about his wife, and he starts doing some detective work himself, tracking down leads while trying to preserve both a happy domestic front and fulfill his wartime obligations. There’s a great scene in the cramped English farmhouse where Marianne’s loose, loud friends show up for a party, drinking and carousing enough to magnify Max’s irritation and his doubts about his wife. This was the sort of fertile material that made Notorious (and, to a lesser extent, Suspicion) such a classic for Hitchcock, pairing Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as war-crossed lovers. But then, Hitch had the great Ben Hecht writing snappy dialogue for him.

There are suspenseful moments, both for Marianne and Max, and Zemeckis clearly cribbed the Master of Suspense for tips on extending ours. The movie is also crammed with showy side roles, such as Jared Harris as an avuncular RAF officer, Lizzy Caplan as Max’s openly gay sister and Matthew Goode (unrecognizable as a shattered war spy). It should purr along like a Jaguar, but it feels a little hobbled by a somber tone that actually works at cross-purposes against its suspenseful intentions. Too much is telegraphed to viewers — by the lighting, the baleful looks at the sky, the characters’ careful deliberations — for us not to know what is coming by the time we reach a rain-drenched airfield in London, not so very different a final setting from the one that Bogie and Bergman shared at the end of Casablanca. C’est l’amour, c’est la guerre.

A sandstorm and an old ragtop are the setting for a steamy love scene.

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