With the Second World War as a backdrop and a fateful meeting in Casablanca, this love story bears all the hallmarks of an epic Hollywood romance.
In actual fact, Allied is very contained, even claustrophobic at times, as befits a story viewed through the suspicious eyes of a Canadian intelligence officer, Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), who’s told that his wife, Marianne (Marion Cotillard), is working for the enemy.
What the film lacks in scope, it makes up for in constant tingling suspense and raw emotion. And that frisson is certainly heightened by the rumours of an affair between the stars during production (which Cotillard has strenuously denied).
In the film’s early stages, though, the pair’s on-screen chemistry does feel subdued, as Vatan parachutes into the African desert and steps carefully around Marianne, the French Resistance fighter who must pose as his wife.
Their mission is to infiltrate a gathering of high-ranking Nazis and assassinate the lot of them, and Max is adamant there should be no other fireworks to distract from the plan.
Inevitably, Marianne does weaken Max’s resolve, and Cotillard plays the part with an effortless blend of gentle sass, sensuality and moments of porcelain vulnerability that will leave you guessing as to her motives.
Pitt’s character is enigmatic in a different way. He’s self-possessed and perhaps a little too understated at first, before growing more agitated with the heat coming from his superiors in London. It’s there that he and Marianne tie the knot for real and quickly have a child, and the rapport between the couple builds while the stakes rise, adding to the tinderbox atmosphere.
Jared Harris, playing a British officer, vacillates between sympathy and stern insistence when Max is ordered to test Marianne’s loyalty. If she leaks the false information given to her, it falls to Max to execute her. Of course, the real drama is not in Max’s opposition to those in command, but the seed of doubt that begins to grow in his own mind. Every interaction with his wife becomes weighed down by paranoia, the tenderness giving way to desperation, and this breeds more uncertainty as she begins to notice that Max is being “different” with her.
Director Robert Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Locke) could have made more of this psychological subtext and the repercussions of broken trust instead of sending Max on his own fact-finding mission midway through the film. On the upside, that does afford Zemeckis (a veteran of blockbusters such as the Back to the Future franchise) the opportunity to include a bit of rousing, all-guns-blazing derring-do behind enemy lines. He also underlines intimate moments with sweeping, fiery action, whether it’s a love scene in an African sandstorm, Marianne giving birth during the Blitz, or a German plane literally crashing a party at their Hampstead home.
There are dramatic contrivances as well as a few discrepancies when it comes to the nitty-gritty of classified military operations (how do Max and Marianne smuggle machine guns into a Nazi cocktail party?). And referencing Hollywood classics like Casablanca does the film no great favours. However, this is still a production with plenty of class and the seductive appeal of the Golden Age. Cotillard, in particular, shines in a role that plays on her doe-eyed, almost angelic aura, floating across the screen in silky gowns with a tenuous smile.
In the context of 1940s cinema, the occasional overblown moment makes sense as well, and if you don’t feel a lump in your throat by the final curtain, you may want to consider a career in espionage. Only the iciest temperament could resist.
Allied is in cinemas on Friday 25 November