There’s something decidedly old-fashioned about the new Brad Pitt-Marion Cotillard spy thriller, Allied. And that ends up being a good thing. It’s the sort of twisty, romantic, smart-but-not-too-smart espionage film that Hollywood has all but given up on in recent years as it shamelessly chases after millennial hearts and minds. You get the sense that the people who made it were going for a 21st-century Casablanca with a dash of 007 sex appeal.
That debt to the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman classic is front and center from the opening moments, as Pitt’s Canadian Air Force pilot Max Vatan parachutes into the vast Moroccan desert in 1942. A car approaches. He gets in and is handed a suitcase with guns, fake passports, and a wedding ring. He’s told by the driver that his “wife” will be waiting in a purple dress. That wife, French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour, is played by the always welcome Cotillard. And when Max and Marianne rendezvous at a Nazi-filled Casablanca nightclub that might as well be called Rick’s, the fireworks are hard to miss. They’re both spies, playacting as spouses and working for the Allies, but neither seems terribly disappointed that their partner happens to be easy on the eyes. Neither does the film, which doesn’t waste any opportunity to put Pitt in crisp linen suits and Cotillard in slinky satin dresses like his-and-hers Ralph Lauren models. They almost look too good.
Allied is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), and it runs with the slick, well-oiled precision that a seasoned professional brings to the job. It’s not trying to be flashy or arty, it just wants to get the job done. And it does that and a little more. As Max and Marianne feign marriage while carrying out their assignment to take out the German high command in North Africa, they fall in love (cue the unintentionally hilarious swirling-sandstorm love scene). With their mission accomplished, they reunite in London during the Blitz, get married, have a child. All seems perfect. That is, until Max is informed by British intelligence (Jared Harris and Simon McBurney) that Marianne may not be Marianne at all. She may actually be…dun-dun-dun…a Nazi spy. (That twist is not only given away in the trailer, it’s the entire point of the film as a whole.) The couple, in a sense, have to become spies all over again, pretending everything is normal as they sneak and sniff around. Pitt, of course, has played in this sleeping-with-the-enemy sandbox before, in 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Angelina Jolie. That film was snarky where this one is more square. But Pitt and Cotillard’s chemistry is just as charged and combustible. You may know exactly where a movie like Allied is leading you, but its two smart, smoldering leads make you want to take the ride. Here’s looking at you, kids. B+