Back in 2005, I wrote a review for Mr. & Mrs. Smith starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, rumored to be having an on-set affair. In my review, I commented on what I perceived as a lack of chemistry between the stars. Eleven years later, here I am writing a review of another spy vs. spy movie starring Brad Pitt and a co-star he is rumored to have had an affair with. This time, however, I am older, wiser, and know better than to comment on that affair in my review of the movie. Fortunately, Allied is a much better film than Mr. & Mrs. Smith, so there is much more to write about.
Allied tells the story of Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), spies sent to Casablanca to pose as a Parisian married couple in a plot to assassinate a Nazi ambassador. Over the course of the mission, the pair falls in love and Max invites Marianne to come back to England with him as his wife. Over the course of the next two years, as the war rages on, the couple still manages to enjoy a happy married life and welcome their baby daughter, Anna. All that is thrown into upheaval, however, when Max’s boss, Frank (Jared Harris), calls him into a top-secret meeting. British intelligence uncovered coded messages that suggest that Marianne is not who she said she was and is working as a German spy, transmitting the information Max brings home from work. The office plans to run a “blue dye” test on Marianne. They will call Max with some false information and if the information is passed to the Germans, they will know for sure that “Marianne” is a spy, and Max will be duty-bound to kill her, or else be hanged for high treason himself.
Allied is perhaps the most romantic film I have seen in quite some time. Unlike Me Before You, which tested the potential of love to make life meaningful, and The Light Between Oceans, which pitted parental love and spousal love against each other, Allied derives both its romance and its suspense from the extreme measures Max is willing to go to prove that his wife is not a spy. Although it has some intense sequences of action, most of the drama of the film comes from intimate moments with high stakes.
To heighten these moments and the overall suspense of the film, the filmmakers do an admirable job of taking small moments and dwelling on them in a Hitchcockian fashion that ratchets up the tension. For example, when Max waits for the phone call with the false information, he watches Marianne get ready for bed and check on Anna. Meanwhile, the alarm clock on the nightstand ticks loudly and ominously. It’s a pretty basic move, but it is effective. Similarly, the camera dwells on Marianne in moments full of suspense over whether or not she will read the message Max takes. Without showing much, the film keeps the audience wondering and worrying.
Allied is also beautifully made in the attention paid to wardrobe, set dressing, and location. Occasionally, more often in the Casablanca section than elsewhere, the use of CGI to create a sandstorm or locale looks a little cheesy. Mostly, however, the film is full of rich details that depict the passage of time and the creation of a family without the need for exposition. The home that Marianne and Max live in is full of little details that convey the life of the happy family there. Furthermore, the wardrobe choices, both in swanky costumes and more casual outfits, captures the period of the story with elegance and beauty. It is a striking movie in addition to being a suspenseful one.
The acting by the ensemble cast, Brad Pitt, and Marion Cotillard bringing these tense moments home with emotional and resonant performances. Allied falters at points toward the beginning, but its romantic and anxious plot kept me on the edge of my seat. 4/5 stars.
Allied was written by Steven Knight and directed by Robert Zemeckis. It runs 124 minutes and is rated R for violence some sexuality/nudity, language, and brief drug use.
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