Sweeping romance colours tale of espionage

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour  PA/Paramount
Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour PA/Paramount

ALLIED (15, 124 mins) Thriller/Romance/War/Action. Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, August Diehl, Matthew Goode. Director: Robert Zemeckis.

Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland)

With a protracted opening sequence set in 1942 French Morocco, Robert Zemeckis’ old-fashioned espionage thriller explicitly doffs its fedora to the film Casablanca and a bygone era of sweeping romances.

The pre-release hype surrounding Allied has focused on wicked whispers about the relationship between Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, which resulted in the Oscar-winning French actress issuing a statement to deny any involvement in her co-star’s divorce.

On screen, they are an exceedingly attractive pairing and screenwriter Steven Knight provides the actors with plentiful reasons to moan with ecstasy in a steamy sex scene set during a violent sandstorm.

However, Pitt and Cotillard don’t come close to melting celluloid and the script fails to make explicit the consequences of failure for their two secret agents.

The characters are gambling not just with their own lives, but also with the future of countless European nations, and not once do we experience a palpable sense of jeopardy or nail-biting tension.

Success seems preordained from the glossy opening frames... but appearances can be deceptive.

Wing commander Max Vatan (Pitt), a Canadian intelligence officer posted to London during the Second World War, parachutes behind enemy lines to assassinate a German ambassador.

He joins forces with glamorous French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), who is already embedded in Casablanca and will pose as his adoring wife.

Sparks fly as the faux romance kindles deep desire, pulling the wool over the eyes of Commandant Hobar (August Diehl) and other Nazi officials.

“I keep the emotions real, that’s why it works,” coos Marianne, explaining the art of her seductive deception.

The couple reunite in London, where they marry, raise a beautiful child and entertain friends and family including Max’s bohemian sister, Bridget (Lizzy Caplan).

As the Allied war effort gathers pace, Max is ushered into a covert meeting with his superior, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris), and a military intelligence official (Simon McBurney).

They present damning evidence that Marianne is a spy working for the Germans.

Max denounces their suspicions, but he reluctantly agrees to run a Blue Dye test on Marianne, leaving bogus intelligence in plain sight at home to see if the same information is intercepted in coded messages to Berlin.

If her guilt is proven, Max must execute his wife.

“You will go home and carry on as if nothing has happened,” confirms Frank, but Max is determined to winkle out the truth. Allied is a triumph of style over suspense, maintaining a pedestrian pace even when German bombs rain down on London.Pitt and Cotillard look luminescent thanks to cinematographer Don Burgess, and both are draped sexily in Joanna Johnston’s impeccable period costumes.Action sequences are surprisingly gruesome and blood-thirsty, warranting the 15 certificate, but fail to quicken the pulse. Elegance bullies excitement into weary submission well before the two hours are up.