Love is a battlefield – often literally so – in Robert Zemeckis’ uneven “Allied,” which attempts to harness enough glossy old Hollywood glamour to disguise a startlingly flat and just plain silly tale of spies in love.
The well-dressed affair starts strongly enough, with Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) silently parachuting undetected into the North African desert, where he makes obvious his prodigious ability to slip into any situation with ease. Max is soon whisked into Casablanca to meet his partner, the dazzling French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), and the pair happily play off each other in what ends up being a dry run for the very dangerous double-crossing to come.
The duo have been matched up with the express mission to take out a high-ranking German officer at the local embassy where Marianne has been embedded for months, currying favor in order to snag a party invite to a glitzy event where she and Max will off their target and anyone who gets in their way. As Max and Marianne make ready for what looks to be an impossible operation, they find themselves falling in love, which just might be the most dangerous undertaking of all, as blunt as that may sound.
Pitt and Cotillard’s chemistry crackles when they’re actually practicing good old-fashioned spycraft together, and things really pop when the duo are waging a cold war with the world around them, all guns blazing and can-do attitude. (That first meeting in a swinging Casablanca bar is one of the film’s highlights, dazzling in its cleverness, an element that soon runs dry from the rest of the film). But once their first mission – quite improbably, though expertly choreographed – goes off without a hitch, Steven Knight’s script pulls the pair apart in service to an entirely different storyline, one that’s both less entertaining and much more convoluted than the film’s snappy first act.
As Max and Marianne attempt to carve out a semblance of a normal life in wartime England – including a baffling, oddly ambitious scene that sees Marianne literally giving birth in the middle of an air raid – past deeds come back to haunt them. The now-married couple have long trafficked in the world of secret-keeping, but when an RAF higher-up hits Max with the biggest secret of all – hey, we think your wife is a German spy – he’s woefully unprepared for the fallout.
Knight’s script builds in a ticking clock for Marianne’s discovery, baiting her with a purposely false message to send to her spy cell — which would take just two days for the RAF to decode — but “Allied” only becomes increasingly inert as its plods through it second half. As Max engages in increasingly slapdash activities to uncover the truth of Marianne’s identity before his employers do, “Allied” forces its characters to abandon their most distinctive characteristics – Max is a planner, Marianne eschews emotion – to keep the initially intriguing plot moving forward.
Still worse, “Allied” can never settle on a consistent tone, bumping along from smooth spy adventure to stylized war picture to treatise on marriage, all peppered with stilted attempts at humor for an added dash of incomprehensibility. Pitt and Cotillard are game enough, and the duo manage to tap into actual emotion during the most muddled of scenes — including the world’s most ill-advised party, a meeting with a young pilot and even a single scene that involves Cotillard emoting while just waiting in a car.
But that’s not enough to save an entire film, even one that starts with such snappy promise as “Allied,” and is wholly unable to keep its initial pizzazz and pleasure chugging along through a bloated 124-minute runtime. War is hell, but “Allied” isn’t much better, as it wastes a good idea and a better cast.
“Allied” opens in theaters on Wednesday, November 23.