All’s fair in love and war, but is it really? What about when those two world-shaking events are intertwined?
Such is the question at the heart of Allied, a World War II drama that’s impossible to look at through the same apolitical lens we might have before November 8. I saw the film, which stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as two spies who find love during wartime, the night after the election. Suffice it to say it wasn’t quite the escapist pick-me-up I was hoping for.
Which isn’t to say that Robert Zemeckis’ romantic thriller is without its magic. Though hardly an effects-driven spectacle in the vein of Contact or Beowulf, Allied has its high-tech moments: Watch for a party in London that gets interrupted when the sky goes black with German bombers. One of them is shot down — God save the king! — and then plummets toward the partygoers, like slow-moving deadweight seeking to claim more casualties as its last act.
Just as thrilling is the sequence that finds Pitt and Cotillard, on an undercover mission in Morocco, waiting for their cue and filling their high-ranking Third Reich targets with bullets. (Say what you will about Pitt, but he’s good at killing Nazis.)
Perhaps on pure adrenaline, the two partners who’ve only recently met (he’s a Canadian, she’s from France) wed shortly thereafter and relocate to England.
It’s no coincidence that Casablanca is the setting for their meet-cute — Allied aspires to an old-fashioned atmosphere, and Cotillard especially is at home in the antiquated milieu. She’s always had the look of one of those untouchable Hollywood stars of yore, the kind whose otherworldly presence was enhanced by coating the camera lens in vaseline.
Like so many of those starlets, Cotillard is here playing a kind of femme fatale. The frailty in her voice is matched by a ferocity in her eyes, and every time one of her marks averts his gaze we can see her subtly calculate her next move. That cerebral cunning is matched by her beau, and once they’re out of Casablanca their shared life is one of relative bliss.
Then Pitt’s higher-ups come to him with concerns about her true loyalties. He’s forced to go on yet another covert op — this one concerning the mother of his child.
“Being good at this kind of work is not very beautiful,” she says at one point. It’s just one of the many grim pronouncements uttered by these potentially star-crossed lovers. Part of the reason why Allied works so well as a romance is because both halves of this fractured whole approach their union with the cynicism their profession demands. What makes an effective spy isn’t necessarily what makes a devoted spouse.
And yet we want nothing but love to conquer all. Zemeckis, who’s long blended a forward-thinking use of special effects with a classicist’s focus on storytelling, can’t have known that his movie would make landfall in an especially divided nation, one desperately seeking a happy ending. He does know how to both please and manipulate a crowd, though, and ultimately Allied is a double agent of sorts: It walks the thin red line between agony and ecstasy, never showing its true colors until the end.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis