Chemistry is so important to the success of a movie. This not only applies to on-screen talent but chemistry of the artists behind the scenes crafting many elements into a finished feature. “Allied,” the new World War II espionage thriller, has all the right pieces in place: an A-list cast and director, a sizable budget and talent behind the camera to help craft the vision. But something throughout “Allied” feels off—as if all the ingredients didn’t mix well, leaving audiences with an occasionally interesting drama that never quite achieves creative cohesion.
Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is a spy for the allies who makes his way to Casablanca, where he will rendezvous with a member of the French Resistance, Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard). Once there, they will pose as man and wife and prepare to assassinate a German ambassador. Their initial interactions are all business. Sure, putting two ridiculously good looking people together in dangerous circumstances is a recipe for a pants-off dance off, but these are two experienced intelligence agents who know such relationships are bad news. Yet, logic is abandoned within five minutes as the two begin making sweet, sweet love before anyone can say, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”
Their mission goes swimmingly, as they’re able to pull off a daring assassination and kill enough Nazis to make any red-blooded American scream with delight. Max asks Marianne to come to England with him and be his bride. Before long Marianne is giving birth while the German Luftwaffe tries to level London, and the two are happily married. Then the movie ends with our two lovers and their new baby living happily ever after, forgetting about the nastiness of global conflict and opening an ice-cream store.
Oh, wait! That’s not it!
Max learns the British intelligence believes Marianne is a spy. In 72 hours, they’ll know the truth, and if they learn she is working for the Nazis, Max will have to put a bullet in her head. Of course, he rejects the premise, and believes there’s no way Marianne—his wife and the mother of his child—could be a Nazi spy. Max feels obligated to seek out the truth for himself and begins a mad hunt against a ticking clock.
About an hour into the movie, Max learns of her potential deception, and it’s at that point the movie starts to become interesting. “Allied” works when it becomes a very small, almost claustrophobic examination into Max and Marianne’s relationship. There’s so little tension to the film’s first hour, which feels like an overcooked version of “The English Patient.” I respect the time committed to building their relationship, but none of it is effective.
I have no problem believing Marianne and Max would be attracted to one another in the way that two celestial bodies would inevitably collide due to gravity. But their relationship never feels real to me. Cotillard is a great actress who feels slightly out of place in the spy role because of some rampant overacting. While Pitt walks through every scene with such an emotionless gait, he feels slightly less than human. There’s one scene in particular where a downed German bomber is plummeting right toward his house and comes within inches of killing him, the woman he loves and his infant daughter. His lack of expression at this life-and-death situation is just weird. In fact, much of Pitt’s performance is so understated it’s almost disturbing. Until the end of the movie where he’s allowed to ditch the stoic façade, we barely see Pitt register a single human moment. He’s a very pretty robot.
I mentioned chemistry because “Allied” is a poorly constructed match between filmmaker and script. Robert Zemeckis is a great director. Last year’s “The Walk” was one of the best films of 2015; however, “Allied” requires a more grounded director. There are a few moments so overblown with blockbuster visuals and jarring special effects, the movie suffers for it.
At its heart, “Allied” is a small story—one that could have been told at a much smaller level. It suffers when it tries to become something sweeping and epic. I liked the last half, but it’s undermined by a muddled first act and a performance from Pitt that feels like a minimalist’s guide to acting. Though not a bad film by any stretch, the movie is undone by a lack of creative chemistry.