There are two sides to Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) in Allied. One parachutes into the desert, kills men and women who threaten him without hesitation, hijacks military airplanes to pursue personal vendettas, kicks over chairs and curses at his superior officers when he doesn’t like what they say, and might even execute his wife if she’s deemed a traitor to the Cause. The other side of the man shares quiet conversations with the woman he loves, plays with his daughter in a park, looks out for other soldiers he barely knows, takes care of horses, and dutifully says “yes, sir” and “no, sir” to every command. That these two personalities exist in a single man may smack of schizophrenia, but Max is perfectly sane. He is just living in a time of societal unrest, and he’s trying to manage his fear moment-to-moment as best he can.
Allied’s time of unrest is WWII. Max and his first fake then real wife, Marianne (Marion Cotillard), are spies sent to Morocco on a mission. He’s Canadian. She’s French. They fall in love, come home to London, and then the British military learns of the possibility that Marianne isn’t who she says, that she’s actually a German spy who has duped the Brits and her husband. Max seeks the truth in hopes of saving his family.
Director Robert Zemeckis has long known how to craft an entertaining story. He’s at his best when he’s working with real people instead of digitized ones, and while Allied may not be his best film, it certainly shouldn’t be counted among his worst. It’s a fun movie if you’re up for a kind of updated Bogart picture. Allied has its moments—a hectic, paranoid house party is among the most woozy and exciting scenes I’ve seen all year—and it flounders in others (not letting the audience know what Max and Marianne are in Morocco to accomplish make the first third of the movie more aggravating than it needs to be). And while Cotillard is magnetic, Pitt is a bit too taciturn. Max is the kind of man who holds things close to his chest, but even Rick had Sam to chew the fat with. I wish Max had a friend, so we could learn a bit more about the kind of man Max is.
Underneath all of this is an insistence on the importance of family as the core institution of any society. Max and Marianne’s little cross-cultural family unit becomes a stand-in for all families in a time of fear. There are as many shots of the anti-aircraft gunfire-filled skies in Allied as there are of Cotillard’s trusting, moon-wide eyes. Marianne literally gives birth during the Blitz (on what is clearly a green-screened sound stage – one of the movie’s only visual effect misfires). The climate of fear they live under prompts everyone to distrust everyone else even when that distrust isn’t founded on anything other than rumor. A side story in Allied features another couple that is glad for the distraction of the war, because it allows them cover for their relationship. We know the war will end, and that couple will have to go into hiding again. There are two sides to everything in Allied, but fear rules over all.
Allied is Max’s story, and Marianne’s story is presented as part of his. I’m not bemoaning this. Max’s attempts to save his family from the fearful things that assail it is a story worth telling and hearing. It’s also interesting to think about Marianne’s perspective on everything we see though. Without spoiling anything, she’s a character who always attempts to do right no matter what it costs her, and the times she lives in make it difficult to determine right from wrong. Max and Marianne are both at their best when they act courageously. For Max, that means acting without seeking his superiors’ approval. For Marianne, that means staying true to the greater good even when it costs her dearly. Both of them find the resources to act courageously in their respective ways when they think about their vulnerable, innocent daughter, Anna. Anna is living proof that good can come out of fearful times when people put each other’s needs ahead of their own. Anna is the future worth fighting and dying for, the future worth staying together for, the future worth being being good for.
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