At its best, Allied is an effective spy thriller rather than the tearjerker it tries to be.

At the start of the second act a character says “Marriages made in the field never work”. It’s a saying that pretty much sums up Allied, a war time espionage film built on the platform of a cloak and dagger romance. Set in the1940s with an opening shot over the Moroccan desert, Allied works as a period piece with a nifty throwback to Casablanca (1942). It’s all there – Exotic locales, tailor made suits, rumbling jazz music, chrome trimmed automobiles and every other polished detail from a Humphrey Bogart classic. This is fair evidence that Veteran director Robert Zemeckis is still a stickler for gorgeous set pieces and it works in favour of screenwriter Steve Knight’s story; for the most part.

With Casablanca as the backdrop and WWII raging in the background, we meet Canadian intelligence officer and RAF pilot Max Vatan (Brad Pitt). His assignment from headquarters in London is to assassinate a high ranking German official. Gathering intel for the job and also helping him blend in with the crowd is French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) posing as his wife. Leading up to the assassination, this first act takes exactly 40 minutes but crucial to how the ending resonates with the viewer. We watch them prepare for the assassination, stage love scenes to avoid arousing suspicion and eventually pull off an improbable mission, before impulsively marrying and starting a new life in London.

Up until this point the pacing is as restrained as dragging a thick slab of concreate over a thin layer of ice. Then kicks in a crescendo of suspense when Max is told that his wife is not who she appears to be. Worse, his new orders are to execute her or hang for high treason. For better or worse (pun unintended) Knight’s screenplay goes from a slick spy thriller to sloppy love story by adding a trick question followed by a similar but trickier question – how well do you know your spouse? And, how well do you think you know your spouse? Those questions were aptly answered in 2014’s Gone Girl, a much more twisted crime-thriller, but unresolved during the final big reveal in Allied. It’s not the fault of the leads, both seasoned thespians in the prime of their careers. The problem lies in the limited time we are given to learn how Max and Marianne really feel for each other. That’s primarily because their relationship maintains a single tone while faking it and even after they are blissfully married. What could have worked is allowing their intimacy to develop enough for us to care about them. Unfortunately, this barely happens, resulting in a rushed and anti-climactic ending despite Cotillard’s captivating delivery.

What does work is the outstanding production quality that harkens back to the golden age of Hollywood. Weakness in the script aside, Allied is still a spectacle with equal doses of suspense, drama and action. His reputation for fantastic visual effects and fleshed out characters notwithstanding, Zemeckis can be credited with a near perfect war era film when viewed solely as an espionage thriller. Perhaps even a perfect one if the source material was a John le Carré novel. Even so, there is plenty to keep you on edge – even if that means watching a baby being born under the blitz.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.