Allied is a wartime romance that might have been made in 1942, if Humphrey Bogart flashed his bum and Ingrid Bergman had good aim. It's largely set in Casablanca, among Nazis, Vichy collaborators and French Resistance fighters, wrapping up next to an airplane.
Any resemblance between Allied and a much better movie on the subject isn't coincidental but unfortunate.
For a brief time director Robert Zemeckis gets it. The idea isn't to make the movie audiences couldn't see in censored times, violent and coarse, but to embrace the era's pulp innocence, polish it. Allied begins in that vein, with a mysterious man parachuting into the Moroccan desert, hiking to a rendezvous point, unlocking an arranged identity.
We learn he's Max Vatan, a Canadian RAF officer and Allied spy but eventually he'll just be Brad Pitt. Max is taken to Casablanca where he meets Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who will pose as his wife in the half of the movie that works, before the spies marry for real. Posing as Nazi sympathizers from France, their goal is assassinating an ambassador.
This is the portion of Allied that works; state-of-the-art nostalgia, building characters and their covert process, planting seeds of doubt about Marianne that grow wild in the second half. Zemeckis is still capable of arresting visuals, like that parachute opening and Casablanca's seductive streets. But soon after Max and Marianne carry out their mission and escape, Allied begins a slow, arduous fade to black.
It begins with sirocco sex, the couple groping in a roomy coupe, with a dust storm howling and Don Burgess' camera swirling. On the heels of a machine gun massacre, it's a jarring reminder that, no, they don't make 'em like they used to, because old theys had to be more creative in rousing viewers. Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight think they're spicing up a time-tested formula but it's just Tabasco, hot and tasteless.
Max is smitten and proposes marriage. Marianne is cleared by security officials to accept, soon retiring from duty to raise their infant daughter, born during an air raid. There's still an hour left and Zemeckis doesn't use it all wisely.
Max is informed by a security car (Simon McBurney) that Marianne isn't who she claims to be. She's a double agent passing secrets to German forces, and the only way to prove it is "blue dye" sting. Max will leave a bogus message from headquarters on the night stand. If that false information shows up in German communiques, Marianne will be trapped.
The premise is promising but its execution lacks ingenuity from performances to staging. Allied becomes a serious of low-key confrontations as Max disobeys orders to investigate Marianne's past on his own. Max's commanding officer (Jared Harris) is our best measure of tension, his veins popping while Pitt underplays nearly everything, appearing tired. Even in such a forgettable project, Cotillard seems incapable of false acting moves, conveying credible tragedy when handed arch melodrama.
Of course, Allied is the movie project when Pitt reportedly indulged in behavior contributing to his pending divorce from Angelina Jolie. Some of that alleged behavior involved Cotillard, which she has denied. Tabloid appeal is just about all Allied has going for it, all that's left from Hollywood's golden era it lazily seeks to emulate.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.