Did Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard really have an affair during Allied? Will we, 40 years from now, pore over his or her diaries or encrypted text messages and get the full revelation, like Lea and Han Solo? Can we tell anything from the evidence before us, on screen, in the WWII spy romance Allied?
Well, they certainly do a lot of kissing and share a decent, memorable sex scene in an old car while a sand storm whips and thrashes around them. But the screen hardly melts with their incandescent new, real-life chemistry. Neither did it with Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in The Light Between Oceans, so I’m tempted to think that Brad and Marion were probably trying to hide their real passion and deliver us a muted chemistry on screen. Or not. Could it all have been a marketing ploy, an old-fashioned studio fixer’s gossip column plant…?
Ah, the old double-bluff. Of course, with spies, you never can tell, because – and this is what makes Allied smarter than it looks or actually plays – Brad and Marion are pretending. They’re actors in life, see, playing spies on screen, who are pretending to be lovers, but who then get married. The whole thing is about what’s real, and can we ever tell.
He’s wing commander Max Vatan, a handsome chap, preposterously so, in a war time matinee idol sort of a way, so smooth and CGI unwrinkled, he looks like Benjamin Button. Or maybe he’s just really good at moisturising.
Marion is Marianne Beausejour, a French spy in Casablanca. Max parachutes in, across the dunes and into the Rivoli club, pretending to be her husband but speaking bad French that could give the game away.
They do their job at the ambassador’s reception.
Then the action moves to war time Hampstead and some pub knees ups, and domesticity and a desk job, until Simon McBurney shows up. It’s never good when he shows up. “I’m a rat catcher,” he says. Now Max has to discover the truth – is Marianne, his wife and mother of his baby, really a German spy?
Cue drums and strings.
Some of it is silly but you never stop guessing or trying to read the clues. Your eyes are fixed to the faces, to the shadows.
I loved the design, the costumes, the cigarettes, the air raids, the kitchen cabinets and Cotillard’s lipstick.
It’s a pastiche, of course, knowingly so, and it’s the perfect genre for a film about appearances, faking and pretence, a film which plays with all levels of reality – is the desert even real? What that doesn’t give you is edge or toughness, but it makes it all a movie game, a film for people who love war movies like Casablanca, a film for lovers, but not a film for lovers of real war movies.