The atmospheric World War II thriller “Allied” (** OUT OF ****) differs drastically from actor Brad Pitt’s previous WW II epics “Fury” (2014) and “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). “Inglourious Basterds” was as a profane, tongue-in-cheek, Quentin Tarantino remake of director Enzo G. Castellari’s superior 1978 Italian actioneer “Inglorious Bastards” about army deserters on a secret mission behind Axis lines. More recently, Pitt starred as a rugged U.S. Army tanker sergeant in “Fury” who breaks in a new driver during the twilight of World War II. “Inglourious Basterds” qualified as a satiric comedy with buckets of blood and gore, while the serious, straightforward “Fury” amounted to a gritty triumph from start to finish. Comparably, “Allied” is a trifling, romantic, espionage thriller that at best is half-baked. “Back to the Future” director Robert Zemeckis has cast Pitt as intrepid Canadian flier Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard as cunning French Resistance agent Marianne Beauséjour. They rendezvous in the sun-drenched town of Casablanca and together assassinate a Nazi ambassador at a gala dinner party. After they escape from this fracas, Max convinces Marianne to join him in London. Naturally, the two wed, and the pregnant wife delivers a daughter during an air raid. Eventually, British Intelligence informs our heroic protagonist that they suspect that his wife is a double agent. Not surprisingly, Vatan refuses to countenance such a preposterous idea. If you’ve seen the trailer for “Allied,” you know that I haven’t revealed anything significant because it contains all the information that I have given.
Anybody who knows anything about vintage World War II thrillers knows the Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman classic “Casablanca” (1942) immortalized the action and intrigue of the scenic Mediterranean port city as an escape route for refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. This tear-stained tragedy dealt with the sacrifices that an estranged couple made during wartime events that irrevocably altered their lives in the hereafter of Paris. Clearly, whether he admits it or not, Zemeckis is channeling the Warner Brothers epic in his own film. Initially, “Allied” gets off to a visually provocative start as an individual descends by parachute into the windswept Moroccan desert and then trudges across a sea of dunes until a native in an automobile picks him up in the middle of nowhere and takes him into town. No sooner has our heroic Canadian arrived in Casablanca and met Marianne, who establishes his identity to her friends, than he strangles a suspicious Nazi officer in a secluded telephone nook. Not only did Max recognize this Nazi, but also this Nazi recognized Max. Max caught him on the phone as the Nazi was poised to notify his superiors. Of course, as well-dressed as he is, Max couldn’t stab this dastard to death for fear of blemishing his immaculate apparel with blood stains. Nevertheless, it seems incredible that nobody interrupted the two as they struggled violently in the nook.
Afterward, Marianne (Marion Cotillard of “Public Enemies”) establishes Max’s credentials with various Nazi authorities in Casablanca and then the pair plunge into the desert to practice marksmanship with their British STEN guns. This weapon looks unique because its ammunition clip sticks sideways out of the weapon. During the first half of “Allied,” or the Casablanca section, Max and Marianne are constantly testing each other to learn more about themselves. Marianne abhors Max’s flawed French-Canadian dialect, and Max ignores her obvious attempts to seduce him. Eventually, Max does capitulate to his hormones, and Zemeckis stages their opening tryst in a cramped automobile during a tremendous sandstorm. This scene is especially sensual, but Zemeckis doesn’t show any more flesh that an underclothing advertisement. Later, Max and Marianne and attend the party. Mysteriously enough, some go-between has taped two STENS to the underside of a serving table. After a bomb explodes outside as part of a diversion, our heroes riddle Nazis galore in a volley of gunfire before they effect a flawless escape and return to London and safety.
The London section of “Allied” isn’t half as exciting as the Casablanca section. Max finds himself confined to a desk job, but he receives a promotion to Wing Commander. Everything looks bright and optimistic for our hero and heroine who now have an infant daughter. Predictably, Max reacts with incredulity and shock at the accusation that Marianne is a double agent. British Intelligence decides to check her loyalty by running ‘a blue dye’ test. Meaning, they furnish Max with information that no Axis spy would think twice about appropriating. British Intelligence advises him that they will know the truth about Marianne before the weekend is up. Max decides to take things into his own hands and find out if the impossible is in fact possible. He assigns himself to fly a weapons haul to the French Resistance at night and exploit the time to question a one-armed Frenchman who knew Marianne. Predictably, Max gets the information, but he must shoot his way out of a confrontation with several German soldiers in a half-track vehicle.
Unfortunately, neither Pitt nor Cotillard ignites the screen with luminous chemistry. They have some unforgettable moments, but they don’t seem compatible with each other. The first half of “Allied” surpasses the second half where things turn hopelessly hackneyed and then spirals downward with a surprise. One of the biggest problems is “Allied” stalls out after Casablanca and Marianne isn’t as active. Zemeckis has made a polished period potboiler that generates little suspense as Max investigates his wife’s past. The cast looks spectacular in their period apparel, and the aircraft and equipment look reasonably authentic. Sadly, “Allied” doesn’t boast enough of everything: action, romance, and intrigue. Max is like an inexorable force during the London half, but Zemeckis gives Marianne little to do. The characters behave irrationally and the contrived, bittersweet ending makes this potentially date friendly film into a big letdown. Ultimately, rarely a suspenseful exercise in cat-and-mouse espionage, “Allied” falls short of the equivalent of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” versus the Nazis.