Allied (2016)

If By The Sea foreshadowed the end of a real couple, then Allied – whose title may or may not be meant to sound like I Lied – signals doom for a fictional one, because Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt, in all their sumptuous glory, share about as much chemistry as wife and husband as a sack of potatoes and a kid with a mallet. They share the screen but don’t seem to occupy the same space in this laborious World War II movie that often resembles an animatronic diorama.

Pitt plays Max Vatan, a Canadian resistance fighter who parachutes into the desert just outside Casablanca, is driven by his contact to the city and rendezvouses with the lissom Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), a French resistance fighter and Max’s future partner in a mission to take out a Nazi ambassador. Fearing no one will know of their success should they perish in the aftermath, the two decide to fall in love and have sex in the middle of a blistering sandstorm for no other apparent reason than to have sex in a sandstorm. The mission of course goes off without a hitch, and our woeful heroes celebrate by eloping in Britain.

The movie then shifts to Hampstead and tries to paint an idyllic romance in the middle of a blitz-ridden London (in a truly bizarre moment, Marianne gives birth on the street during an airstrike while midwives and nurses stand around applauding in front of burning buildings). Cotillard tries her very best to make some of these scenes believable, while Pitt remains in full macho mode, especially after Max receives distressing news that his beautiful wife might in fact be a German spy.

This sounds like it could be the blueprint for a truly vivacious, character-driven Hitchcockian suspense drama, but in the habitually kinetic hands of director Robert Zemeckis, it slows down and meanders into a lifeless potboiler. Zemeckis once made the brilliant Back to the Future (1985), a movie filled with boundless energy. Now he makes Allied as if on cruise control, seeming more like a hollow tribute to war movies, with actors who don’t really believe their roles. In a career of many films, some better than others, this is one of his worst.

Some of the action segments sparkle, as when Max is suddenly part of a French resistance infiltration and blows up a German tank with a grenade. And there are reliably British performances from Jared Harris as Max’s superior in London and Simon McBurney as the stone cold, unreasonably unsympathetic intelligence official who delivers the bad news. But it all seems for naught when the two stars who are meant to carry the film can’t agree to be convincingly in love, and most of the movie plays out like a poorly written love letter between kindergarten kids who think they know what true love really is (the closing narration feels out of place and exceptionally weepy). I wasn’t completely bored by all this, just unimpressed, and very very upset that Max, in all the time he spent in Casablanca, never dropped by Rick’s Café Américain for a nightcap.

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