As you know, I’m a sucker for quiet intelligent European spy films. When a film in that genre stars actors like Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt at the top of their game and is written by excellent screenwriter Steven Knight and directed by Robert Zemeckis, it has an unfair advantage, even when critics haven’t been that kind and Allied has a number of obvious flaws.
It’s the middle of WWII (1942). Cotillard plays a French Resistance fighter (spy) named Marianne Beausejour while Pitt plays Wing Commander Max Vatan, a Canadian officer working out of British Air Force intelligence. Beausejour and Vatan meet in Casablanca, where their mission is to pretend to be married in order to gain an invitation to a party where they are to assassinate a German ambassador. That the location is supposed to remind us of the greatest film ever made (IMHO) is unquestionable, but I saw no reason to try to draw a deeper comparison.
Without giving away too much (spoiler alert), the inevitable happens, with Beausejour and Vatan falling in love and getting married (after moving to London). Jump ahead to 1944 when Vatan, who now has a one-year-old daughter, is hauled into an office in the lowest dungeons of British Air Force intelligence to face a a high-ranking Special Operations officer (played by Simon McBurney), who informs him that Beausejour is really a German spy. Special Operations wants Vatan to help them prove she’s a spy and then to execute her. Defying explicit orders, Vatan sets out to prove that Special Operations have got it wrong while Vatan’s commanding officer, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris) tries to save Vatan from himself.
Allied is a gorgeous film to watch, even when the Casablanca scenes were actually filmed on the Canary Islands. The score is good. The film moves slowly, but deliciously slow, with great performances all around (though more character development would have been nice) and some excellent dialogue by Knight. The plot, which is based on a true story, is believable and moving, though one of the film’s flaws is the ongoing predictability of the twists and turns. This can sometimes ruin a film for me, but actually I found it forgivable in Allied, partly because I was never sure whether in fact the predictability wasn’t deliberate (in which case the film actually succeeded).
Allied’s biggest flaw, however, was the unnecessarily graphic violence, especially that carried out by our protagonist (Vatan), who is generally depicted as a coldhearted killer (of Nazis, as if that makes it okay). This was an unfortunate decision and the only thing that made me enjoy the film less.
Nevertheless, apart from this major flaw, I found Allied to be a beautiful old-fashioned (I like old-fashioned) romantic spy thriller that I enjoyed (for the most part) from start to finish. Most critics seemed to see the beauty but couldn’t find enough substance behind it. I found enough to satisfy someone who’s a sucker for these kinds of films, so I give it a solid ***+. My mug is up.