I wish there was another way to say “old-fashioned” and not make it seem like a putdown. I faced this problem discussing Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply and I confront it again with Robert Zemeckis’ Allied. The challenge is especially acute because this World War Two story could have actually been filmed in the 1940s. Only the lovemaking scenes and presence of four-letter words nail it as a modern-day film. Few contemporary stars could conjure up the classic-style Hollywood glamor to pull this off, but Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fully up to the task. They look gorgeous, and so do their clothes, designed by Joanna Johnston.
Pitt plays a Canadian operative who parachutes his way into the Moroccan desert and meets up with Cotillard in a Casablanca nightclub (of all places) where they must instantly convince a group of giddy guests that they are a French-speaking husband and wife. After this public show of affection, Cotillard takes Pitt back to their apartment and makes it clear that she is both smart and tough. She wants no romantic entanglements. He also knows the perils of sleeping with a colleague, especially as they engage in life-threatening assignments.
They work well together and manage to carry out orders and make some narrow escapes. Naturally, they succumb to mutual attraction and wind up living together when he returns to London. Then something arises that puts our hero to the ultimate test. It’s a question of trust and a matter of duty. Can love conquer all when lives are at stake in the midst of war?
Zemeckis has built a reputation as a bold, game-changing filmmaker, but this story is told in classical fashion. It’s a handsome, one might even say flawless, presentation. I was mildly surprised to learn that it was written by the talented and prolific Steven Knight, creator of Peaky Blinders and writer of such edgy films as Dirty Pretty Things and Locke (which he also directed). His screenplay was inspired by a true story he was told years ago, and he brings professionalism and polish to a picture that could have capsized in a sea of clichés.
The only thing missing from Allied is a genuine sense of peril in its key moments. For most of the narrative it doesn’t seem likely that anything is going to go terribly wrong for these two beautiful movie stars.
That turns out to be a minor complaint. Allied provides the kind of good-looking escapism that Hollywood used to give audiences on a regular basis. I don’t know if young viewers will relate to this form of entertainment, where many of the sharp edges have been smoothed away and cynicism is absent. I found it refreshing.