Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt schmooze in Casablanca society in "Allied."

Starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by Steven Knight. Rated R.

To answer your question, I don’t know whether Marion Cotillard broke up Brad Pitt’s marriage on the set of Allied, and I don’t much care. I do know that the two actors do have some chemistry, especially in the early going. Unfortunately, that and other falsely encouraging signs give way to a story that plays out with empty gestures and a tedious lack of imagination in this big, expensive Hollywood epic set during World War II.

Pitt portrays Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer who teams up with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard) in Morocco to carry out a perilous mission in 1942. They fall in love, get married, and settle in the English countryside after she bears him a daughter. Yet their child is still an infant when an officer for the Special Operations Executive (Simon McBurney, who can do “persnickety soulless bureaucrat” with the best of them) calls Max in and informs him that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy. If she is proven guilty, Max has strict orders to execute her himself.


Things go fine when Max and Marianne are getting to know each other in Casablanca while plotting a political assassination. Yet something in the movie dies when it gets to England. Once Max receives the news, he starts scrutinizing Marianne’s every word and deed for any trace of betrayal or untruth. The director of Forrest Gump and Flight is ill-suited to bringing out the tension in this sort of marital drama. He’d rather pull off big, showy set pieces like the spectacular opening shot of Max parachuting into the Moroccan desert or the scene in which Max and Marianne consummate their relationship in a car buffeted by a sand storm (a shot shamelessly ripped off from The English Patient). The supporting characters are largely wasted, none worse than Lizzy Caplan as Max’s gay sister. Many other filmmakers have done better at evoking the hornet’s nest of the British intelligence community, too. It’s as if Zemeckis saw a bunch of World War II films and knew how to make his movie look like them, but he missed the romance at its core.

As Max disobeys orders and goes to foolhardy lengths to prove his wife’s innocence, we can see how badly Pitt is miscast here. He’s playing a guy whose stoic facade is hiding roiling passions, and God knows that’s not what Pitt was put on Earth to do. For all the movie’s shortcomings, it still could have worked had the relationship stayed consistent, but no soap. Allied aims for the epic sweep and tragic grandeur of old-school romances, but it just winds up looking old.