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All's fair in love and war - 'Allied'

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Period drama anchored by exceptionally talented leads

The recent trend in spy movies has been to aim for gritty darkness, extreme action and/or a modernized sense of realism, whether you're looking at Daniel Craig's Bond outings or the Jason Bourne franchise or what have you. That same tendency has permeated war movies as well, though perhaps not quite to the same degree.

So it's a pleasant surprise to see something like 'Allied? come along, a stylish period piece that is equal parts spy movie and war movie without the gray violence that has come to mark both genres.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, 'Allied? is a throwback, the story of two espionage agents thrown together in occupied territory during World War II, with a real relationship forged in the crucible of lies in which both of them spend their lives.

Max Vatan (Pitt) is a Canadian spy working under the auspices of the British government. He has been sent to Morocco to strike a blow against the occupying forces ' specifically, through the assassination of the Nazi ambassador. He is assigned to meet up with Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), a French resistance agent who has been laying the groundwork for his arrival in Casablanca for months.

The two play at being husband and wife; their relationship is their cover. But as they go through the plan and ultimately execute their mission, they soon realize that there's something more to it than mere spycraft. In short, Max and Marianne actually fall in love.

Following their time in Morocco, Max brings Marianne back to London with him. The two marry ' for real this time ' and start creating a life together. In the midst of the Blitz, their love continues to grow, as does their family when daughter Anna comes along. They are the picture of happiness.

For a while.

Everything changes when Max is brought in by his superior officer Frank Heslop (Jared Harris, TV's 'The Crown?) and told by intelligence officials that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy. Despite his denials, Max is told that the determination will be made within 72 hours ' and if she is in fact a spy, the rules of intimate betrayal state that Max himself will have to eliminate Marianne with his own hand.

Unsure of who or what to believe, Max frantically seeks out anyone who might be able to confirm the identity of the woman he loves ' all while hiding his motivations from his colleagues, his family and most of all Marianne herself.

It doesn't feel like a coincidence that 'Allied? starts off in Casablanca; the intended connection to the sweeping epic wartime romances of film history is pretty on-the-nose. But while 'Allied? has plenty of strong moments, it never quite manages to ascend to the admittedly-steep heights to which it aspires.

Zemeckis cut his teeth on films awash in special effects and/or zaniness, but his later work has been marked by a tendency to show individual journeys through epic lenses. Sometimes, that proves effective; other times, not so much. 'Allied? lands primarily in the former camp, though not necessarily because of the director.

Pitt and Cotillard are magnificently magnetic as the leads here. Their relationship is the centerpiece of the story; the horrors of war are meant to recede into the background, serving primarily as the setting against which we watch this romance play out. Pitt harnesses his effortless movie star cool here, endowing Max with both a steely resolve and a soft heart. We watch a guarded man let down his walls in the name of love. Meanwhile, Cotillard is the picture of glamor, conveying an Old-Hollywood vibe that is compelling to watch and an ideal fit for this film. She somehow manages to be both sly and shy; it's a subtle and lovely performance. The two of them have dynamite chemistry as well; each serves as a perfectly effective foil to the other.

There's some quality work being done by the supporting cast as well; Harris puts forth his usual standout low-key performance and Lizzy Kaplan (TV's 'Masters of Sex?) has a couple of wonderful scenes as Max's also-enlisted sister. However, at its core, 'Allied? is very much a two-hander, buoyed by the talents of its two leads.

There are some solid action sequences here that do a good job of capturing the difficulties of war, though they sometimes feel a bit disconnected ' there's an occasional gap between the intimate narrative and the epic one. Still, for the most part, it works well.

'Allied? might not be quite the vintage cinematic experience that it strives to become, but that's no reason to discount it completely. With a lush, globe-spanning aesthetic and some compelling wartime action ' not to mention a romance brought to life by two supremely talented and charismatic performers ' there's a lot to like here.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 04 December 2016 13:42

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