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November 23, 2016

I understand, to a certain extent, the effort to compare Allied to Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Brad Pitt co-stars here with Marion Cotillard as rumors swirl about an affair between the two, just as they did in 2005 about an affair with his now-wife Angelina Jolie while he was then married to Jennifer Aniston. There’s also some superficial resemblance; both movies depict a married couple of spies who may be hiding secrets from each other, which has interesting resonances with the ideas of real-world infidelities behind the scenes of each one.

In part, this focus on scuttlebutt is a symptom of the decline of the internet-era film press from criticism back into the gossip-mongering likes of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. But while I’d normally be just the curmudgeon to find fault with this trend, there’s another reason people are focusing on the gossip about Allied: there is nothing else interesting about this movie.

Pitt and Cotillard are Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan and French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour, thrown together in North Africa to assassinate a dignitary from Nazi Germany. Not only does the plan go off without a hitch, but the two fall in love. Vatan gets her off the continent to join him in London, where they settle in to raise a family. But Max’s commanding officer (Jared Harris) pulls him in to break some tough news: Marianne might be a sleeper agent stealing secrets from him and passing them to Germany.

To work this out, they conduct a sting, with a warning that if Marianne is caught, Max will have to kill her himself to avoid his own charge of treason. Which seems bizarre and overly complicated, not to mention ineffectual, since a ruthless double agent, knowing his partner was certain to die anyway, would surely take the chance to “prove” his loyalty and insulate himself from further suspicion.

But maybe it’s not even the test we think it is! There are rumors about a big, secret operation that needs the highest possible security, and this is all just a way to test if Max would even investigate and turn on his own wife if ordered to do so. It would be an incredibly detailed expansion on the setup of a classic misogynist joke if it were true, but Max doesn’t know if he can take that chance. While following orders, he also embarks on his own parallel investigation of his wife, which itself backfires, and everyone slowly gets more and more angry at everyone else.

The plotting is kind of a mess, and it’s easy to get lost in why exactly Max is doing what he’s doing at any given point. It seems designed by screenwriter Steven Knight with an eye less towards narrative coherence and more towards providing one scene after another for Pitt and Cotillard to chew. This is a movie about people with Feelings, and feeling them very strongly and loudly indeed. But for a spy movie it’s curiously absent a sense of tension outside a handful of scenes.

Even if you fall back to the gossip, you’ll be disappointed. Pitt has nowhere near the fiery chemistry with Cotillard that he had with Jolie. Max and Marianne seem to get along pleasantly enough, but every time they head towards passion it seems forced. If they really were spies, no security officer would believe them.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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