Here’s an old-fashioned adventure that could have been made at the height of the classical Hollywood period with almost no modifications, a throwback in the truest sense.
“Allied,” a World War II thriller from Robert Zemeckis, features sprawling re-creations of the Blitz of London and Casablanca circa 1942, presented within a story that’s blessed with a great hook, moves along at a quick-fire pace and lets Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard do what they do best: charm the hell out of the screen. You can practically envision the old-school marketing campaign: “Thrills! Adventure! Romance!”
It’s not the most important movie of the year; it doesn’t have much to say about the way we live now. There are no big ideas here, really, in its exploration of the eternal conflict between love and duty, and the burdens of paranoia and suspicion when they infect a family.
But there’s true value in escapism in its purest form, which has been Zemeckis’ forte since “Back to the Future,” especially when it’s presented with such skill and conviction.
Pitt plays a Canadian intelligence operative named Max, who teams up with French resistance spy Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard) in Casablanca, on a mission to take out the German ambassador to French Morocco. They marry, return to London, and questions emerge that cut to the essence of their relationship.
Even when Zemeckis indulges himself a bit too heavily — a sex scene in a car in the Moroccan desert, engulfed in a sandstorm comes to mind — the spectacle of it all makes it easy to forgive him.
It’s not a great revelation to say that Pitt and Cotillard have true movie star charisma, but they do and they’re given every possible opportunity to display it here, delving into their various undercover identities, sharing tender romantic moments and forever maintaining just the right touch of aloof mystery, with Zemeckis taking enough time out from his obvious affinity for the wider surroundings to narrow his scope to close-ups.
It’s that personalizing of the on-screen escapades that distinguishes “Allied.”
For all the exquisitely rendered espionage adventures, from a break-in at a jail to a shootout at a grand reception, within the swirl of life on the streets of Morocco and within the pubs of wartime London, the movie works because it remains supremely aware of these characters and engaged in their story.
The filmmaker relishes the chance to bring this period to life, but he’s most concerned with giving his actors the chance to seem at once larger-than-life and completely human.