Love During Wartime: Allied

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

Allied
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Opens November 23

In the sublime prelude of Robert Zemeckis’s WWII romantic thriller a parachutist comes gliding into the North African desert circa 1942, and it’s not long before he’s revealed to be Brad Pitt. Call it “The Movie Star Who Fell to Earth,” though what is a luminous man without an equally luminous woman by his side? A quick trip to the big city (Casablanca, no less) resolves that matter, as Pitt’s Bogart-esque Max Vatan meets up with his Ingrid Bergman-like “wife” Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard).

It’s not hard to buy into their love affair, though they’re pulling one over on the SS officers and their families whom they’ve been tasked with befriending. In truth, Max and Marianne are fellow allied resistance fighters awaiting orders to assassinate a high-ranking Nazi official. Until that moment comes, they must play-act at passion, though it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that their pretend feelings quickly give way to real ones, nor that their emotions deepen and are further tested once they complete their mission and go to live together in England.

Another non-astonishment: Allied’s screenplay was penned by Steven Knight, whose Eastern Promises (directed by David Cronenberg) also told a story of an undercover operative navigating the tricky line between actual and assumed identity. Movie-brat Zemeckis is, of course, a hemisphere away from the icy Cronenberg, which isn’t to say his elegantly classicist approach to the material isn’t a perversely perfect fit. The film is schooled in the ways of Curtiz and Hitchcock, of Lean and Powell/Pressburger (the finale even pays homage, as so many movies from the Spielberg generation do, to John Ford’s The Searchers). And this pie-eyed adoration of cinema past beautifully complements a tale of two people (characters and performers both) who pretend for a living.

The meta aspects of the production never outweigh the straightforward ones, but remain in a pleasingly provocative balance. It’s easy enough to enjoy Allied as a well-told, very well-cast story of love, betrayal and sacrifice, as well as to revel in Zemeckis and frequent cinematographer Don Burgess’s ace technical skills—plenty of sinuous tracking shots, tense setpieces, and an audaciously mythic approach to the central relationship that spikes with both a coupling during a sandstorm and a birthing during the London blitz. Yet there’s a potent undercurrent of sadness and uncertainty (a sense, perhaps, of innocence lost, impossible to regain) that feels as if it stems from somewhere outside the narrative proper. It’s something that should be familiar to anyone who’s tasted the lingering bittersweetness of previous Zemeckis films like Cast Away, A Christmas Carol, Flight and The Walk. This is another of his polished Hollywood products laced ever-so-slightly with arsenic.

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