Robert Zemeckis’s thrilling ‘Allied’ tells the story of two married World War II spies who may not have managed to come in from the cold

February 27, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2018

Robert Zemeckis’s 2016 World War II movie, Allied, is a terrific thriller starring Brad Pitt as a Royal Air Force spy who learns that his wife may be a Nazi mole.

The film begins in 1942 in an isolated stretch of desert outside Casablanca as Max Vatan (Pitt) parachutes in to rendezvous with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a Frenchwoman who’s laid the groundwork for a plot to assassinate Germany’s ambassador to Morocco. (Why would doing so offer the Allies any advantage whatsoever in the war? Unclear, I confess.)

When the pair both manage to survive the dangerous mission, Max’s bosses in the British intelligence bureaucracy give him permission to bring Marianne to England and marry her. Within months, if not weeks, of Marianne’s arrival, the duo are joined in matrimony, and she is pregnant with their daughter.

Jump forward to the eve of Anna’s first birthday. The blissful young couple live in a small house in a picturesque London neighborhood (Hampstead?), and word at the office is that Max may be in line for an important job. But when he’s summoned to meet with an unnamed senior official (Simon McBurney) over a long weekend, Max is told that his bride may be a Nazi sympathizer inserted in place of the actual Marianne Beauséjour when Nazis foiled an espionage ring (“circuit,” as the characters here say) in occupied Paris.

The spy brass have a plan (“a blue dye operation”) to check their suspicions, one that requires Max’s complicity: The Canadian officer must jot down some information for Marianne to transmit to Berlin. If she takes the bait, and if British codebreakers find the details of Max’s note in Nazi radio traffic on Monday, Max will have to execute Marianne personally or else be hung for treason.

The movie’s last hour or so show Max’s agonized efforts to enjoy a few days off with his wife and daughter while pretending that everything is normal — even as he defies orders and attempts to prove that his superiors’ misgivings are unfounded. Matters aren’t helped much by the party that Marianne has planned for the weekend, an event that turns into a wild bacchanal punctuated by a terrifying Nazi bombing raid.

Pitt, I would argue, isn’t the most expressive actor, and I imagine that a different male lead — George Clooney, Tom Hardy or Cillian Murphy spring to mind, for instance — would have made for a better movie. But even as is, Allied is an exciting feature based on a fine script by Steven Wright (Eastern PromisesDirty Pretty Things) and well executed by veteran writer-director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future and sequels, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the successful but execrable Forrest GumpCast Away and Flight). This intelligent thriller should appeal to a wide range of potential audiences.

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