Marion Cotillard automatically outclasses pretty much anything she’s in. She was so effortlessly good in Public Enemies that she’s more or less the only thing I remember from what was supposed to be Johnny Depp’s star vehicle. She is so good that her two best scenes don’t even have dialogue. She is, in fact, so good, that for as long as the camera is on her in Allied, you can forget that it’s balderdash at just about every level. Her final scene is, despite everything I’d already seen, still somehow a punch in the gut, because Cotillard is just that good. She makes silence devastating. She can even make you think that terrible dialogue is a real person lost for something to say.
Brad Pitt, in the meantime, has - at most - upped his “my wife just died” game from the miserable baseline he set in Se7en, where his reaction to finding Gwynneth Paltrow’s head in a delivery box seemed to be based on hazy memories of how a friend looked when their younger brother’s hamster had died. The rest of the time he’s playing a straight arrow, which is a good way to remind us that “normal” Brad Pitt is about one step up from an animatronic display at Disneyworld.
So it’s Cotillard’s movie, but in more ways than one. Allied is like someone had a perfectly good script about deep cover and betrayal, and someone - someone, let’s say, Pitt-shaped - wedged a low budget war thriller into it, ruining both ideas beyond repair. There’s Cotillard’s movie, which is all about whether she could possibly have seduced an Allied spy, married him, had a baby and all so that she could get access to Allied secrets and slip them to the Germans. Could that possibly be true, or have the paranoid loons of Section V have got it ridiculously wrong? And then there’s Brad Pitt’s movie, in which things explode and people get shot to bits and there’s excitement of a particularly teenage kind. Man, I wish it had just been Cotillard’s movie, not least because it seemed from the trailer that someone might have been trying to adapt Alex Gerlis’ The Best of Our Spies.
Or, you know, I’d have been fine with Pitt’s movie, since if it had just been that, it would have been Brad and Marion, together they fight Nazis. I wouldn’t even have worried that there was another better movie; there would have been explosions and a cool female lead, and I’m easily pleased. The trailer promises that, in its way. It could have been fun.
Alas, it was not to be. And with plot and the pacing all over the place, and the camera not staying on Marion like God intended, I had way too much time for my mind to wander and ponder how many things were just plain wrong.
Over on the Brad Pitt plot front; he parachutes into Morocco for his deadly mission, landing miles from anywhere and marching across the desert to be picked up a local driver and driven to Casablanca. Where he transforms into a Frenchman just in from Parism with all the papers and clothes for the role, and two Sten guns in a suitcase. Along the march he skylines himself on the dunes, just like he wouldn’t have been trained to; that bugged me a bit. But the rest of the plan is madder. Everything has been done to make him someone who’s just arrived in Casablanca, except for the bit where he arrives the way his papers say he should have. It’s a small town, from a French emigré perspective, and there’s a war on. How long is it going to be before someone asks why they never saw him coming through the port or the airport?
And then there’s the thing he came to do; he’s there to assassinate the German ambassador. On the one hand, in 1942, Vichy Morocco wouldn’t have rated an Ambassador; it would have had a consul at best. On the other hand, Ambassadors are useless. I don’t know how many of them you’d have to shoot to make a difference to anything. It’s a great peace-time move, since it’s a diplomatic incident and casus belli, but once you’ve got a war on anyhow, what’s the point?
Meanwhile the spying and betrayal plot is breathtakingly wrong; Brad Pitt is told his wife may be a spy, and if she is …. he must execute her by his own hand. What? This is Britain, April 1944. Every German spy in England had been caught, and turned, and they were being used relentlessly to sow disinformation in Germany about D-day. And now MI5 has found a possible extra asset who the Germans think they’ve got past the British completely? They’d no sooner have her executed than a five year old would shoot Santa on Christmas Eve. This is melodrama for the sake of melodrama, when they had an actress who could have handled actual drama. In reality MI5 would have turned her round, rolled up her network and used the whole boiling to reinforce the message that the invasion was going to hit Calais. And with a real actor, as opposed to Brad Pitt playing it straight, they could have had real drama from the marriage falling apart. Nah, we’ve got this nonsense, and Brad flying to France to get intelligence, and - oh man, it’s not even worth getting into it.
But it could all be happening in an alternate reality of some kind, since this is a London where the Blitz is well underway in 1943, and the Luftwaffe is mounting massive raids in April 1944. Or so I thought, until I checked and it turns out that Operation Steinbock was underway at the time and it even involved He 177s, so the ridiculously over the top air raid and crashed bomber in Brad and Marion’s back garden are historically just about plausible. Damn. I’d been all set to hate on that. Oh well, I enjoyed my annoyance while I was having it.
One movie or the other would have been fine. The Brad Pitt one could have been thrilling. The Marion Cotillard one could have been a classic. Trying to do them both at the same time just ruined everything. But still, it was almost worth it to see Marion dismissively smack down Brad Pitt wondering if she could do with hit with a Sten. “I could do it if all I had was cutlery.” She could. I’d watch it.