When tasked with a kill mission of a high-ranking Nazi official, Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianna Beausejour (Cotillard) are thrown together to execute the mission. After falling in love and leaving their old lives behind them, they marry and have a child - but a year later the Special Operations Executive (SEO) reveal to Max that they suspect Marianna of being a German spy. Setting a trap, and giving Max the responsibility of assassinating her should the trap catch her. What then transpires, against a back drop of suspicion and paranoia, is Max's determination to uncover whether the woman he loves is really who she says she is.
Marion Cotillard is the film's shining beacon, crafting an enigmatic performance that ensures audience's are engaged and captivated by her presence in a scene. She carries a confidence and liveliness rarely seen of women from the era and is truly believable in her role (well, the first role at least and she excellently keeps audiences guessing as to the legitimacy of the rumours that she is a German spy too). Brad Pitt is decent enough, but continually overshadowed by the playfulness of Cotillard's performance, almost as if he cannot keep up with her. In fact, his strongest scene - when he is told that his wife is suspected of being a German spy - is when he does not have her energy and presence hanging over him. Palpable chemistry is evident but perhaps not to the degree one hopes and expects, with two beautiful actors in the mix. The supporting characters are solid enough but this is undeniably about the two lovers at the centre of the picture and Zemeckis' has no qualms about putting all spotlights on them.
Allied really comes into its own through its production values though, with a terrific use of costumes and sets absorbing you in the era with tremendous detail. The glamorous and stylistic picture oozes a sophistication from each and every frame and is well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. One scene, in which Marianna gives birth in the middle of the blitz is so melodramatic and illogical (please, everyone, run - bombs are falling around you!) but one cannot deny the beauty of the scene, demonstrating the production values elegantly. Zemeckis carefully produces the film to unfurl slowly, aptly raising the tension to almost fever picture levels and actually managing to pick the momentum up for the film's middle stretch after a rather tiresome first act - a rare occurrence when the middle act is usually the one to slow down the pace and consider things in a little more time and detail. This allows him to have a firm, confident grasp on the tone he is trying to conjure - something intriguing and absorbing in a deliberately slow-burning manner, further supported by a wonderful, stirring score from Alan Silverstri and impressive lighting. It's terrific elements and efforts like this that causes Allied to be such a frustrating final product.
Allied suffers from a spoiler-friendly trailer and terrible pacing issues. For example, pretty much everything in the first third has been seen in the promotional material for the film's release, somewhat ruining the thrill of watching it unfold on screen. Of course, this leads to major pacing errors and a somewhat predictable first half in the lead up to the central premise - is his wife a German spy? - which would be far more effective being teased in the trailer, rather than outwardly inferred to. As mentioned, it manages to kick things into gear for the majority of the second act, with some terrific set pieces, and for most of the third, until the execution of the climax. What should be a heartbreaking, soul-crushing finale is simply 'quite sad'. Where there should be tears, there's a shrug and an 'aw'. The ending is exactly the one I hoped the film would be brave enough to go with but it was not executed with the emotion it richly deserved and that final airport scene, which should feel like a cathartic release, struggles to connect deeply enough to be as effective as it could be. It's deeply saddening that Allied's fumbled ending leaves a little bit of a sour taste in an otherwise solid war-time thriller.
Allied is an old-school (that's not a criticism) war-time thriller that is engaging enough, with an impressive team in front of and behind the camera. It is certainly not the tear-jerker it aspires to be, nor is it the instant classic it has its sight firmly set on, but it is certainly worth a watch to see the beauty and style of the picture, as well as the excellent central performance from Cotillard. Allied's entire success rests on how much you buy into the central romance; if you are swept along from the word go, you'll find the ending heartbreaking; but if, like myself, you struggled with the first act, it may not be as powerful as you expect it to be. Essentially, Allied works better as a wartime thriller than a romance film. It's unevenness and issues with pacing prevent it from elevating to greatness but it is good enough and worth a watch.
Summary: Allied strives for a greatness it struggles to achieve, and despite the well-assembled team in front of and behind the camera, the overwhelming response is one of frustration that they couldn't get a tighter grip of the material.
Highlight: "JANIS IAN! IT'S JANIS IAN!" in the moment I realised how was laying the lead's sister.