As far as wartime romance goes, Allied is no Casablanca, but I must have been in a right mood for a classy, well-crafted, pleasantly old-fashioned drama with glamorous leads and lacking in flaws that drive me bananas about many modern mainstream films. It’s not a classic by any means, but an enjoyable viewing nonetheless. For god knows what reason, the marketing for this film has given away the key twist that drives its second half, though I can’t say that it affected things much since some sort of twist was a given.
As the film begins, it’s 1942 and Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a Canadian intelligence officer, is dropped off behind the enemy lines in Northern Morocco. He then travels to – where else – Casablanca, where he meets up with Marianne Beausejou (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful French Resistance fighter. In order to carry out a potentially fatal mission, the pair must pose as a married couple and remember to look like authentic sweethearts at all times. Though the reserved Max is initially wary of mixing business with pleasure, he of course can’t help but fall for Marianne and the two end up having a steamy pre-mission scene inside a car while the Moroccan desert howls around them. They move to London, get married, have a daughter, and settle into as much of a quiet life as the war allows, when Max has a bomb dropped on him by his superiors, which flings him into a life of suspicion and despair. Without giving too much away, it concerns the possibility that his wife might not be who he thought she was.
For a thriller, the movie unfolds at a fairly sedate pace, which I didn’t necessarily think was an issue. It very deliberately eschews the modern go-go-go cut-cut-cut sensibilities in favour of the old-fashioned feel of the classic 40s films, except with more swearing, sex and nudity than those films would have allowed. Casablanca is obviously a major touchstone here, with the movie knowingly setting its first half in the Casablanca that feels less like a real place and more like film!Casablanca, an exotic place of danger and intrigue (there’s also another nod to a classic Casablanca scene, about La Marseillaise performed in a room full of Nazis). The main pleasure of the film for me was simply watching its movie-star beautiful leads. I seem to have gained a whole new appreciation for actors who can evoke that old-school Hollywood glamour, and both Pitt and Cotillard have it in spades, though Cotillard probably stands out more, since as a character Marianne is more vivacious and has a mysterious allure to her. Robert Zemeckis’ direction is fluid and confident, though the above-mentioned car sex scene had a bit too much spinning camera for my liking. The film’s resolution feels like a slight cop-out and overall it’s a 3 out of 5 kind of film rather than something revelatory, but after watching a few recent films which made me go “huh” at basic stuff like character motivations and story, it was nice to see something that actually feels thought-through and solidly crafted.