Allied presents a not-so-real war

A Canadian pilot and French spy assassinate a Nazi in Morocco, then escape to marry in London during the Blitz. And yet Second World War just never feels all that real-world in Allied.

It all begins in Casablanca, the locale for a certain Bogart and Bergman film you may have heard of. From the sand dunes beyond the city to the rooftop where Max Vaton (Brad Pitt) sleeps at night, characters channel our gaze at romantic, not-quite-real vistas. The club scene where Max first sees French agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), the embassy where they’re to carry out their hit-job, even the streets and shops of 1943 Hampstead, where they’ve settled down . . . it all seems a tad too illusory, too movie-ish.

Much of the problem is how personal, not political, Allied is—the emphasis is on Max and Marianne’s love (they apparently take their carnal pleasures daily even a year after their daughter’s been born) and whether or not, as Max is told one day, she’s actually a German double agent. But more social grime and historical grit here would only deepen and darken this romance-thriller and its threat of betrayal, not coarsen it. Instead, the war seems a gauzy backdrop for overwrought set-pieces: the pair having sex in a car in a sandstorm or, in the climax, crying in the English rain; Marianne giving birth on the street as bombs fall on London; Max so determined to discover the truth about his wife that he flies to France and sneaks into a local prison to track down a one-armed man who knew her in ’41, in the Resistance.

When Max and Marianne are secret agents, Pitt and Cotillard are A-list actors playing actors—shots of her in mirrors emphasize her double-ness—but little is done with that sense of role-playing. (There’s also the curious incident of the baby girl who makes no noises, save a brief gurgle, during the whole running-time.) Mostly, Allied is cosmetic, costumed melodrama and suspense. It’s all rather pretty and prettily tense, but it mists away like so much stardust.

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