For a brief while in Allied, it was hard to shrug off the feeling that the events were unfolding in the same universe as Inglourious Basterds. A Canadian Air Force officer, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), is in disguise in Nazi-infested French Morocco; he is accompanied by his pretend wife, Marianne (Marion Cotillard), a French resistance fighter. Their mission: to gain entry into a restricted party to assassinate a senior Nazi leader. Sounds familiar? There’s even a throwback to the famous bar scene from Inglourious Basterds in a scene as Max and Marianne try to avoid being found out by a senior Nazi officer.
The officer is even played by the same actor, August Diehl. I suppose you could make the case for Allied being Robert Zemeckis’ sombre take on what Brad Pitt’s life would have been like, had he fallen in love during the events of Inglourious Basterds and went on to get married after the final assassination.
In this World War II film rife with assassinations, espionage paranoia, and fighter planes, what I enjoyed most is the almost languid pace of the screenwriting. Zemeckis is in no hurry to arrive at the shooting scenes. He’s more interested in uncovering the state of mind of characters in the lead-up to explosive situations.
For instance, just before a crucial mission, an amateur pilot is shown throwing his bowels out. There’s even time for Max to give him a few words of advice before he departs. Allied allows for the tension around a potential blockbuster event to simmer and boil. In another scene, a minute before all hell is about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting group of Nazis, Marianne is shown asking Max if he is even able to see her, given the blinding tension.
He takes a moment to survey her, this woman pretending to be his wife, this woman who he made love to in the middle of a desert storm (Allied is also replete with such atmospheric foreboding—the sky is alight amid aerial warfare as Marianne later goes into labour). He tells her, “Not really.” I almost laughed out loud.
Unlike Tarantino though, Zemeckis doesn’t have a taste for violence. The camera is happy to stay out of it, and if it can’t, it’s quickly shown as the nasty even if necessary business it is. The problems, both in Max’s life and in the film, creep in as the film becomes less a thriller and more a drama, as doubts get cast over Marianne’s identity.
The trailers of the film have already done the unkindness of spelling these developments, and ruining shock value. It also doesn’t help that Marianne’s character, after she marries Max, becomes a shadow of the dynamic, smart woman she was in the first half. This serves to expose the weariness of Brad’s portrayal of Max.
The censor board, ever happy to its bit, also plays spoilsport by cutting out—no, hacksawing—portions of Allied. So long as Allied bursts with suspense, it’s thoroughly entertaining. Who is Marianne? What will Max find out as he sets out to dig into her past? Were the very foundations of their relationship staged? The writing explodes with these underlying questions. The revelations, however, don’t feel affecting enough. The last portions especially seem like Zemeckis cursorily checking some necessary boxes… as though even he recognised that the good portions were long over.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard