The ghost of Casablanca haunts the screen in this assured, handsome World War 2 drama from veteran director Robert Zemeckis (Flight, The Walk) and prolific screenwriter Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Burnt). The powerhouse pairing of Brad Pitt and Marianne Cotillard in the lead roles provides an agreeable echo of Bacall and Bogie from the 1942 classic. Unfortunately it is let down by occasionally trite plotting and schmaltzy melodrama. A sex scene in a sandstorm followed by child birth during an air raid are badly overblown set pieces, too much for one film to handle. When it hits the right notes though, Allied does so with considerable gusto.
The action aptly kicks off in Casablanca, Morocco where intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) is teamed with French freedom fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard) on a covert mission to assassinate a German ambassador (Anton Blake). As part of their operation, they must pose as a convincing married couple. Their facade becomes more complicated when obvious attraction manifests and genuine passion rises to the surface. In the aftermath of their duties, the love-struck couple relocate to London and get married. Wedded bliss is short lived however and the past proves impossible to shake. Their romance is tested to the limit in a climate of paranoia as the chaos of war rages around them.
The deception at the heart of the film makes the characters unreliable and unpredictable. It’s a neatly utilised plot device which fuels the compelling relationship between Max and Marianne. The stylish and sultry thriller which comprises the first part of the film sees Pitt and Cottilard both on fine form. The pair spar off each other with a palpable erotic tension adding an extra dimension to their character’s development. When the film shifts to London, the tone shifts into a more nuanced domestic drama. It plays on the paranoia and uncertainties of the characters and the war time setting. Knight’s well paced and tightly structured script is perfectly complimented by the precise, technically flawless direction from Zemeckis. While by no means as elaborate or innovative as some of his more effects laden work such as Back to The Future or The Polar Express, Allied is nevertheless visually impressive. The war scenes are effectively executed and the attention to period detail is beautifully rendered.
Allied has definite flaws but it is still a well made and amiably old fashioned World War 2 yarn, which wears it’s influences well and is driven by excellent performances. Along with Pitt and Cotillard, fine support is supplied by a distinguished cast including Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex). A classy production from an A-list array of talent, Allied is a gripping, involving and ultimately moving piece of grand entertainment.