Harking back to an era before movies like Saving Private Ryan made it fashionable for war films, particularly those based on World War II, to focus on the physical and psychological effects of war on those who fight in them, Allied is more akin to classic tragic romance tales like Casablanca than it is to most modern war films.
That isn’t to say that Allied does not feature its share of gory and violent moments, but the main focus is on the developing and increasingly complex nature of the relationship between the two leads.
Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is an intelligence officer with the Royal Canadian Airforce who is sent to Casablanca, Morocco – again strengthening the ties between the two films – to partner with Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter. Together, the pair must conduct an assassination while posing as a married couple, using Beausejour’s connection’s with Nazi officials to get the job done.
While this provides an intriguing backdrop in itself, the sizzling chemistry between the pair is the true attraction for moviegoers and the story shines a spotlight on the difficulty of maintaining a professional attitude in the face of developing love.
True to classic wartime romance form, the duo is unable to resist their feelings for one another, despite having agreed that allowing their relationship to extend beyond the professional would lead to danger. They get married following the completion of their mission, settling down in Hampstead, England and having a child, named Anna together.
It is at this point that you may be forgiven for thinking that the film may descend into romantic cliché, but there is a twist in the tale. Re-joining events a year down the line, we discover that Marianne Beausejour may not be all that she seemed and that she may, in fact, be a German spy who assumed the identity of the real Marianne Beausejour in order to gather intelligence on the allies, primarily through her relationship with Max.
Informed of this possible deception by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Max is ordered to essentially conduct a sting operation that would see him plant false intelligence for his wife to discover, with operatives examining German channels to see if that intelligence finds its way to Nazi ears. If it does, Max is ordered to execute his own wife or face a charge of treason himself, forcing Max into a position where he must deceive the person he loves most based only on a vague suspicion that she has deceived everybody else.
The revelation is a complete shock to the system, both for Max and the viewer, bringing the core theme of allowing emotions to overrule professional duty starkly into focus once again. A romantic to the end, Max embarks on a quest to find out if the Marianne he fell in love with is actually the Marianne that he had been led to believe she was.
His search reveals a truth that he is not ready or willing to accept, culminating in a final crescendo in which he attempts to escape with the woman he has come to love. Just at the moment that love appears to have conquered all, the final sting in the tail reinforces the message of the dangers of deception and breaks the hearts of any who had hoped that the couple could triumph over the adversity created by war and the dueling loyalties it creates.
A beautifully shot film, as is the hallmark of director Robert Zemeckis, Allied is a wonderful two-hour escape that brings to mind the golden age of Hollywood while also benefiting from all of the trappings of modern filmmaking techniques. Focusing on the power of love to triumph over adversity, yet still providing a tragic slant that prevents the story from becoming saccharine, Allied is carried by the strength of its leads, whose chemistry is obvious throughout, and stands as a welcome departure from war films as they have often come to be defined in the current era.