Review: Spy story ‘Allied’ steeped in Hollywood glamour

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in Robert Zemeckis’ WWII-set romantic thriller

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Allied” is a luxe romantic thriller that looks like it was ripped from the pages of Vogue magazine.

Director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future”) goes old-Hollywood in this World War II yarn, making the beauty of his two leads as much the focus of the film as the espionage storyline. It’s a movie where you can get lost in the tailoring of the stars’ clothes and the softness of their skin and forget altogether about the business of traitors, secrets and who’s lying to whom.

With Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as his leads, Zemeckis has no shortage of beauty from which to draw. Pitt plays Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer, and it’s not far off to think he’s playing Canadian, rather than American because of how well the Canadian uniform fits his frame. Cotillard is Marianne Beausejour, a French Resistance fighter, and the pair team up for a daring mission and eventually — surprise! — fall in love.

The movie opens in Casablanca — if you’re gonna go Old Hollywood, might as well go all the way — where Max and Marianne first meet up. They’re thrown together in deep cover and have to pull off looking like an old couple, which is no problem for Marianne, who is convincing in every detail of her act. “I keep the emotions real, that’s how it works,” she tells Max. (Remember that part.)

The pair walk a tightrope of deception and score invites to a high level German function — August Diehl plays a German officer and gatekeeper, doubling a role he played in “Inglorious Basterds” — where they pull off the assassination of a government official, which only makes them hotter for each other. They both know better than to mix business and pleasure, but they just can’t help themselves — they’re Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, for crying out loud — and they consummate their relationship inside a car in the middle of a swirling sandstorm.

The story picks up with the couple in London, settled into something of a normal routine, with their daughter (who is born during an air raid). Max then receives some unwelcome news from an officer and self-described “rat catcher” (Simon McBurney): Marianne may be a spy working against Max. It’s up to Max to vet her and learn if he’s living a lie, and to make sure he looks really good while doing it.

“Allied” tells an absorbing story of trust, betrayal and deception, and Zemeckis — working from a script by “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Locke” screenwriter Steven Knight — keeps the action taut and nimble.

But more than anything this is glamorous moviemaking, and Zemeckis piles it on; there’s a scene of Max and Marianne having a picnic that looks straight out of a fashion catalog. Similarly, the opening shot of Max parachuting into the French Moroccan desert has a serene beauty that sets the tone for the film.

Zemeckis often uses cutting edge technology in his films; he blended cartoons and real life in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “The Polar Express” was the first film to entirely utilize motion-capture animation. The visual gimmick in “Allied” is its elegance: You’d think he hopped in his time traveling DeLorean and filmed it in 1942.

Yet like beauty, “Allied” is only skin-deep. It doesn’t cut the way it wants to, and its send-off moments feel conciliatory. “Allied” has plenty working in its favor, but a Hollywood classic it’s not. It just looks like one.


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Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use

Running time: 124 minutes