Robert Zemeckis’ World War II spy thriller romance, Allied, does what many spy films have done before. It’s even explicitly said; when Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) announces his intention to marry his spy counterpart, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), Max’s boss (Jared Harris) warns him these types of work relationships don’t work. There are rules in the spy genre, touchstones any tried-and-true spy film must follow or subvert. The biggest one, the one that Allied tackles, is “Don’t fall in love.”
Initially, it’s hard to get through Zemeckis’ digital world. The film opens with Max parachuting into Morocco, onto the sand dunes, and all of it feels artificial. From the sun to the sand, to even Max himself; Pitt has been replaced by a digital double and it’s painfully obvious. You also can’t help but notice the digital artifices surrounding the characters. The Nazi Headquarters in Morocco is built from the ground up by CGI; the lifeless gleam of digital ever-present. Thankfully, Allied puts Pitt and Cotillard front and center, who deliver some exceptional human performances. It needs to be said that sometimes Zemeckis gets lost in the technology, but thankfully that’s not the case here.
The film’s first act leads up to an effective action set-piece, a typical World War II spies-trying-to-kill-a-high-ranking-Nazi-officer mission. Max and Marianne meet for the first time, him a Canadian intelligence officer and her a French Resistance officer. They play their parts as an unassuming French couple in Morocco in order to attend the all-important Nazi ball where they intend to unleash hellfire on said Nazis. It should be noted that Allied earns its R-rating, not veering away from some very graphic war violence.
Of course, Max and Marianne fall in love during this mission, get married and move to London. Max knows the rules, yet he breaks them. During a scene, early in the movie in Morocco, when Marianne tries to slyly move on him, Max refuses and says of spies who sleep with each other on missions, “They fuck, they fuck up, and they get fucked.” But, of course, he can’t help himself.
As much as Allied is viscerally violent, it’s also exudes a captivating level of sensuality, thanks to Cotillard and Pitt. The less said about the real-life scandal surrounding the two the better, but what can be said is the couple has a natural chemistry on screen. A sex scene between Max and Marianne in a car during a dust storm in Morocco is worthy to be included in the pantheon of hot sex scenes in odd locations.
The violence and passion presented during the first act of Allied perfectly sets up the Max’s predicament once the dust settles. A year later in London, Marianne is now his wife and mother of his child, but once he is told by his superiors that she might be a double agent, working for the Germans, he’s beside himself. Duplicity runs rampant as he tries to keep his cool in front of Marianne, keeping his own investigation of her a secret. Pitt delivers some of his best acting during a scene where he tries to maintain his composure, running through the worst-case scenarios is his head. What if the woman he loves has been lying to him this whole time?
Lying plays a key role in films in the spy genre and Allied presents this theme around the most appropriate institution of marriage. Soon after the investigation begins, Marianne herself is concerned Max might be cheating on her after one of their nights together felt “different”. There’s both a kindness and a twinge of wickedness in Cotillard’s eyes, which she radiates with a seeming ease. It’s in these smaller moments when the film resonates. What do we keep from one another and how far are we willing to go to find out the truth? Not only that, what do we do when the truth we find isn’t the one we wanted to hear?
The film keeps you on your toes, twisting and turning until the very end. Thanks to Zemeckis’ steady focus on the action as well as the leads, who deliver some exceptional performances, and Steven Knight’s script that takes the espionage into the bedroom, Allied turns out to be a worthy spy thriller for those looking for some passion in your espionage.