By Ben Thumm (Chicago, IL, USA)
The year is 1942 in the midst of World War II and this story takes us to Casablanca, Morocco. We are introduced to Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) who is a Canadian officer/spy that travels to meet his “wife”, Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance officer. The objective is simple – convince everyone that you are a happily married couple and assassinate a German ambassador.
Robert Zemeckis, who has directed such notables like Cast Away, Forrest Gump and Flight, is at the helm and backed by the screenplay of Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders). We first get acquainted with Max and Marianne as he is dropped off at a fancy restaurant with specific instructions from his driver as where to locate his wife. Once Max spots Marianne with all of her friends – she gushes about anything and everything she has ever informed them about her wonderful husband who has been away as a phosphate engineer. Once the brief introductions and small talk are made, the two are off to discuss the real reason why they are there in enemy territory. From here on out they spend the next few days playing the part of the ‘perfect couple’ while trying to maintain their real relationship – business. Many of the first scenes that Max and Marianne make their best impressions is also where Zemeckis and Cinematographer Don Burgess are at their best as well. There are the technical aspects of when and where the camera moves to that really puts the audience front and center of the characters’ conversations and their facial expressions. With such an elegant and beautiful setting in Casablanca, there is also a real effort to display each aspect that surrounds these characters.
The day has finally come where Max and Marianne finally execute their long awaited mission – literally. With the help of a car bombing diversion to startle everyone inside the ambassador’s party, the final touches of the plan are in place with many casualties in between. After a barrage of bullets and bloodshed, our main characters are scot-free. They make their escape with no one behind in sight and with a few moments to process everything that has just unraveled, Max asks Marianne to come to London with him and be his wife. This poses the question to audience – do we really believe that these characters truly care about each other and found something together in a wake of murder and an already fake marriage? With all of their propaganda to pose as this happy couple and the obvious sexual attraction to each other, there is a case to be made that these characters are just meant to fall for each other – even in this line of work. Fast forward three weeks and the two are hitched back in London where everything is champagne and smiles. A little bit further down the road Marianne is pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl Anna, smack dab in the middle of an air raid. This scene takes place in a crumbling hospital where Max and a nurse are wheeling her out into the streets while it looks like hell breaks loose above. It is such an over the top sequence that you almost have to appreciate the audacity of it – but that’s Hollywood and why we love movies!
After a full year of happiness and health, things take a turn for the worse for Max. Marianne is being accused of being a German spy that has been sending top secret intel to the Germans. If all is true, then Marianne is to be executed for treason – if not, then all is forgotten. Max is left to ponder at whether he is being tested for a possible new job or that the woman he helplessly fell in love with is indeed a fraud. As the story takes the audience along with Max’s journey of discovering the truth – Zemeckis and Knight try to do their best to keep us paced with a little bit of action, drama and tension. Some seem to work better than others, like sequences of the aerial attacks, gun fire and the uneasiness we feel with the dialogue between Max and Marianne in key situations. What is constantly present is the question – who really is Marianne? The ending sequence is a terrific example of pacing and execution that will have you on the edge of your seat until the final credits roll.
Is Allied Casablanca? No. Is Allied Mr. & Mrs. Smith? No. Allied is able to find a balance between the drama, the romance, the war and it understands what it is. It doesn’t try to be much more than that. Besides a handful of over dramatic sequences, the highlights outweigh the flaws and leave an enjoyable, slow burning, romantic thriller.
Rating: 3/5BEST QUOTES