When it comes to husband-and-wife spy movies, this isn’t Brad Pitt’s first time at the rodeo. The 2005 action comedy “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” famously launched his relationship with Angelina Jolie (which, sadly, has since deteriorated into a filing for a divorce). But while on-screen romance in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” sparked the love between one of the millennium’s most iconic power couples, Pitt’s chemistry with co-star Marion Cotillard in the romantic thriller “Allied” falls short of Brangelina.
Reportedly based on a true story, the film begins in the thick of World War II in 1942 Casablanca, Morocco. Max Vatan (Pitt), a Canadian intelligence officer, and Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter, cross paths in the most obvious of set-ups: They must pretend to be a married couple and carry out a secret mission behind enemy lines.
Cotillard’s Marianne is vivacious and irresistible. She is as fierce as she is beloved by anyone exposed to her charisma — including the stoic, tight-lipped Max. But halting dialogue and various forced rooftop scenes where the two have to put on a show for the neighbors fail to foreshadow any real sexual tension.
A scene where Marianne unbuttons her blouse over the breakfast table to “test” Max feels awkward rather than enticing, and the inevitable moment where they throw all fucks out the window and have sex in a car in the middle of a desert sandstorm lacks enough buildup to be satisfying. The camera spins in circles around the hastily undressing couple, attempting to frame the sudden flurry of passion as a cathartic release of emotions — which, in reality, never came across.
After the couple pulls off the assassination of a Nazi officer together, Max, driving their getaway car, suddenly demands that Marianne come to London with him and be his wife. But her immediate acceptance doesn’t make sense. Marianne is a woman who can shoot a gun with chilling precision, who has worked her way up in the ranks of the French Resistance and who makes legions of friends with a flash of her charming smile. It seems unlikely she’d drop everything she’s worked for the second she has some decent sex with a man she otherwise seems to have no real connection with.
In fact, what had been a strong female character in the first act of the film loses any agency the moment Marianne marries Max. She becomes stagnant, doting over their newborn and waiting for her husband to come home after being away at work for too long.
It’s at this point where the film shifts from love story to thriller. Max learns at work that his wife and the mother of his child might be an undercover German spy. Scoffing at the accusation initially, his suspicions grow as the allotted 72 hours he must spend at home before he knows the truth stretch on.
Here, director Robert Zemeckis shines — with painfully slow moments of silence, Max’s tilting of the bathroom mirror to watch Marianne’s movements, her hands creeping eerily into the frame, the clock ticking in his ears, his palpable terror poorly masked from his seemingly unsuspecting wife. Pitt steps up his acting game, shaking in fury and fear as he blatantly disobeys orders to search for the answer that might destroy him. In his desperation over his wife’s prospective loss, the scope of Max’s love for Marianne becomes believable for the first time.
Ultimately, a rocky beginning is saved by the stellar acting in the final scenes of the film. In Cotillard’s best scene, lengthy, tense shots pan between her wide-eyed gaze and anxious fumblings with the baby as she waits for Max in their getaway car.
The true strength of “Allied,” however, lies in its over-the-top cinematic moments. Marianne gives birth in the middle of a London air raid, her pained screams an added element of chaos to bombs dropping across a smoky, apocalyptic sky. The stunning visuals also manifest themselves in the beauty of the Moroccan and English scenery, in addition to Marianne’s enviably chic 1940s costumes.
Regardless, the lack of believability in Max and Marianne’s fervent romance renders rumors of an off-screen affair between Pitt and Cotillard altogether unlikely. Brangelina may be over, but it’s certainly not because of “Allied.”