Robert Zemickis’ Allied – a story of love and betrayal set in the midst of WW2 - is not something that I would typically enjoy. I remember the Dublin premiere, and seeing the posters everywhere but it never even crossed my mind to attend. Flash forward a year and a half, and there I am at home lazing about on my day off, mid summer, with nothing better to do than scroll through Sky Movies typically mediocre collection of “premieres” that actually first hit the screen months ago. Once in awhile however, you get a surprise and you come across a diamond in the rough. Allied must have done something right to have me, a big ol’ cynic, sobbing as the credits rolled. This reaction is due, in large part, if not in its entirety, to the emotionally charged performances of lead actors – Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt, here playing the ultimate star-crossed lovers, the spies Max and Marianne.
Too often films are judged based solely off their critical merit, with the focus on whether the stories are original or the form is thought provoking or different. Allied is not the most groundbreaking or inventive film you’ll ever see, it’s far from it. But does that really matter when the film is entertaining? Visually, the film is stunning. Director Robert Zemeckis and cinematographer Don Burgess masterfully recreate 1940s Morocco within a less than subtle but nonetheless welcome homage to Casablanca. From the outset, this world is romanticised, full of lavish bars and elegant costumes. Allied is never really concerned with the war itself, using setting as a backdrop to ultimately explore the personal complications of war, and how times of massive public unrest intervene with daily life and relationships.
The scenes in Morocco are split between Max and Marianne’s professional duties as undercover spies and their social, private lives with the latter becoming the crux of the film as their relationship blossoms. The period setting creates an immediate air of escapism and possibility in which Max and Marianne – both spies for different countries believe they can live in harmony despite the complications their profession may bring.
The sensual, dreamlike world of Morocco, with its swirling golden sands and glowing white rooftops is quickly replaced by the grey suburbia of London where the couple try to navigate their greatest challenge yet, mundane “ordinary” life.
Throughout the film there is a suggestion of the forbidden, a sense that they cannot be together. It is surprising that they are allowed to even make it out of Morocco together, given that typically these films tend to resist the happily ever after trope until the end. However, that uneasy feeling lingers. With the introduction of major conflict Pitt and Cotillard excel. Doubt and paranoia encroach and it is here that their performances reach an exceptional level as they expertly conceal their characters’ truths creating genuine tension and suspense within an otherwise and predictable plot structure.
Brad Pitt is a criminally underappreciated actor, which may sound strange given that he is one of the most famous men alive. But Pitt is known for his tumultuous relationships and good looks, not necessarily his excellent versatility and range which has seen him steal the show in Inglorious Basterds, Ocean’s Eleven, and Burn After Reading to name a few. In Allied, he delivers one of his most vulnerable performances, as he morphs from a cocky, suave secret service agent into a paranoid and anxious, lovelorn wreck.
The characters, in particular the heroic, if naïve Pitt alongside the damaged and regretful, but always elegant, Cotillard are instantly likeable despite their flaws. Their chemistry and generates an emotion which keeps you watching in the desperate hope that they will find a way to be together.
While the concept is undoubtedly generic, Allied is underrated for the way in which the plot unfolds, managing to make the familiar feel exciting. In its tribute to the glamorous styling of classic Hollywood cinema, its set and costume design provide a visual treat while the excellent performances of its stars invigorate the beating heart of the film. Cotillard and Pitt are the perfect choices for a film that harks back to classical Hollywood. The pair are not only talented but truly stunning together. They are a couple that you will not only root for but that you will simply enjoy looking at. Allied provides two hours of the ultimate cinematic indulgence and escapism.