Brad Pitt has obviously taken an interest in the milieu of the World War II film, having starred in “Inglorious Basterds,” “Fury” and now “Allied.” But while the previous two focused on the grimy battlefield relationships of men, the quieter “Allied” takes on the tussle of intimate partnership in times of war. This one is especially complicated, since the couple met as spies, posing as man and wife.
Pitt is Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan, dispatched to Morocco to liaise with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in a plot to take out the Nazi ambassador. Acting as a pair of married Parisians, the duo discover real feelings for each other. “I keep the emotions real,” Marianne says of her successful undercover tactics.
Soon the couple is in London, shacking up with their new baby while Max takes a desk job. Within a year, British intelligence is questioning Marianne’s identity and asking Max to test his wife, leaving out false information to see if she passes it along.
The gorgeous stars, sumptuous costuming and exotic period setting that we’re initially promised are a bit of a bait-and-switch from what “Allied” turns out to be. The movie is too sad and dark to fulfill the fantasy that is laid out in the first part of the film, directed by Robert Zemeckis.
The muted palette, methodical plotting and concealed emotions make for a film that slowly simmers instead of reaching a roiling boil of drama. When you expect the film to pop, it averts any extremes or action. Part of this is due to the identification with Max as the main character; Pitt plays him so steadily that he’s stiff, and the performance is near wooden.
There are a few compelling sequences. A mission behind enemy lines in France where Max flies to question a one-armed drunk about his wife’s identity is suspenseful and exciting, but it ends with a sense of dark violence and nihilism that wafts over the entire film like a fog. There are also a few baffling moments, such as their daughter’s birth outside on the streets of London during an air raid, which tests the suspension of disbelief. Lizzy Caplan is given short shrift (and an atrocious wig) in an underdeveloped role as Max’s lesbian sister.
There’s a poignancy to the underlying themes about marital trust — can you ever really know the entirety of the person that you marry? What makes a marriage that is founded on deceit? Is love more important than country? Zemeckis and Knight scale these large ideas down to a manageable story in “Allied,” but they don’t draw out enough emotion to make it effective and emotionally wrenching, despite the rafts of sorrow in which it’s steeped.
Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use. 2:04. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.