A dashing Canadian airman and a beautiful French resistance fighter meet on a rooftop in Casablanca to plan a daring mission, all the while mimicking enough conjugal bliss to satisfy the prying neighbours. He's an all-American – er, Canadian – hero played by Brad Pitt. She's a captivating Parisian, courtesy of Marion Cotillard. But before the movie's up, one member of this good-looking pair may betray the other.
Remembering Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca? Thinking of Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith? You could not be further from the mark. If the muddled, improbable and unthrilling Allied reveals anything at all, it is only that Cotillard was clearly not the reason for the Brangelina breakup. Chemistry is missing in action.
Also on the list of those presumed dead in this Second World War drama are three-dimensional characters and plausible plotting. Pitt plays flight commander Max Vatan, a Canadian spy working for the British who parachutes into the Moroccan desert and arrives in Casablanca speaking Anglophone-accented French. Cotillard's supposedly captivating Marianne Beauséjour decries his speech as too Quebecois – although he does tell her he's from Ontario, even as he confides that the secret place of his post-war dreams is Medicine Hat, Alta.
This bizarre mongrel may fool a Nazi official into believing he's a mining executive who has just flown in from Paris, but Canadians are going to know the guy's five passports don't offer a single believable identity. Well, perhaps when it comes to global movie audiences – we are but a small and overly sensitive tribe. However, the rest of the world – or at least that part of it unfortunate enough to see Allied – is going to wonder about spies who risk their lives in unnecessary plots to assassinate minor German ambassadors or endanger entire resistance cells by pursuing their personal agendas.
Vatan starts out as a hardened professional agent who coldly resists Beauséjour's gratuitous advances before he suddenly consents to sex in a car during a sandstorm and then impulsively proposes. Pitt can't make head or tail of the character's behaviour any more than an audience can and settles for alternating tough and tender looks in Cotillard's general direction. Also saddled with a character whose antecedents and motivations are muddling and murky, she responds by looking either nervous or mysterious. Directing the action with heavy emphasis, Hollywood veteran Robert Zemeckis can't help either of them out nor raise the temperature on love scenes as basic as those romantic rooftop moments.
For a reason that Steven Knight, the script's British writer, is guarding as his own private secret, nobody pursues the murderous pair as they miraculously escape Casablanca. They safely arrive in London, where her nerves and mystery are explained: the British suspect the new Mrs. Vatan is actually a double agent, sending Vatan off on a wild mission to clear his bride's name.
As Londoners are shown standing outside during air raids and Vatan unthinkingly undertakes actions that would lead any real soldier straight to a court martial, I began to wonder whether those who actually lived through the war would not find this complete disregard for lived history as rather offensive. For viewers of more recent vintage just looking for some entertainment, the lack of sizzle between the stars, the implausible script and simplistic direction kill both the romance and the suspense.
Underneath all this mess there is some idea about the conflict between private love and public duty, between personal interests and those of the state, but the characters are so marginally observed by both the actors and the script there is no tension in the themes.
In one of Zemeckis's sillier gestures, Vatan is shown reading Graham Greene, a master of the anti-hero. Of course, both war and espionage are moral quagmires, but Allied is far too shallow a film to make room for an ambivalent soldier who can love his enemies and betray his friends.
Allied opens Nov. 23