Brad’s been here before. Seven years ago, a moustachioed Pitt led a ragtag band into a Nazi-killing scheme of gleeful brutality in Inglourious Basterds. Five years later, we met up Pitt, sans facial hair, in the bowels of a tank, dirty, tumbled, moral and muffled in Fury. Another two years on and it’s barely a beat after Remembrance Day with Allied. For Pitt, this visit to 1940s Europe comes in much different circumstances. Again he’s slaying Nazis, whilst swastikas litter the screen, but the similarities end somewhere around here.
We first meet Max Vatan parachuting into German-controlled Morocco, trudging across Tatooine-y vistas. Vatan, a sepia-toned spy, has been dropped behind enemy lines, tasked to meet up with deep-cover agent, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), and assassinate the Nazi ambassador. Beausejour relishes in her fictional cover, schmoozing the superficial and inserting herself into the most esteemed company. Vatan is less comfortable, less able to integrate, and is saved by his ‘wife’, the “life of the party”.
Her vivacity charms the concentrated Canadian. Locked in a mission that could be their last, hearts takes over. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happens here. After their mission, the pair enjoy a blissful year in England, beginning a family. But in the face of worldwide conflict, peace never lasts. And you can’t say Pitt wasn’t warned, yet Vatan brushes off the warnings about relationships born in the field.
When turmoil strikes, the camera changes focus. In the first hour, when romance overpowers drama, the lens can’t help but stick to Cotillard. As much as director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight try to give Vatan room to grow, Cotillard is having too much fun, enjoying her chance to chat, charm and seduce. She has the camera mesmerised, the epitome of a person capable of attracting anyone, or anything. As romance turns to mistrust, a spiraling Vatan comes to command the film’s focus. Pitt is at home with his weapon in hand, army-issued that is, but less convincing here when emotionally stretched. His performance fails to hit as hard as you might hope. He is more affecting through implication rather than action: occasionally his hair emotes loudest.
Allied is not the sexy spy thriller that the trailers sell you. It is not a vehicle built for speed. Zemeckis is patient, first in taking an hour to build a relationship, and again when it comes to building up to the crescendo. He drip-feeds tension, giving silence its due, and shows much through mirrors and look asides. The tension builds to a wholly engaging climax, but lacks the heft of, say, Bridge Of Spies.
In other hands, this would have been more Mr & Mrs Smith. The two moments of real ‘action’ are covered pretty well by the trailer, as most of the story is sheltered from the war’s real threat. The Blitz raises the stakes and shatters the normality of situation, and Allied acts admirably in selling its chaos. Sentimentality seeps through, never threatening to overwhelm the drama, but does enough to keep us out of the dirt.
Allied has neither the grit or pain of Fury, nor the humour or gore of Inglourious Basterds, not that it wants either. Its impact comes as the quiet panic of the period slips into your veins. It will have you second guessing Vatan, Beausejour and eventually yourself. This isn’t a tension-filled tour-de-force, but it is a perfectly enjoyable couple of hours. Don’t be expecting what the trailer sold you, that’s all.