Allied begins in 1942, with Canadian Wing Commander Max (Brad Pitt) parachuting into the desert of French Morocco. He makes his way into Casablanca, where he meets up with French Resistance operative Marianne (Marion Cotillard). The two pose as husband and wife, working their way through the German-controlled city's high society, angling for invitations to an exclusive party where a high-ranking German official will be in attendance. And though the emotions aren't supposed to be real, time spent in close proximity under the pressures of their mission builds a genuine bond between the two spies.
And then the film becomes something else entirely. The second half of the movie is a fairly crazy tale of the lengths a man will go to in order to protect his family. The premise behind everything that happens has potential, but the film is telling the story from a very limited perspective, one that happens to involve some very outlandish element that only serve to highlight the artificiality of the emotions at play. Combined with aesthetics that seem averse to simple reality, the movie struggles to make the drama stick, its scenes at times becoming so ridiculous that they start feeling like an elaborate joke.
The first part of this film basically functions as its own little narrative. Some new information about what happened is revealed later on, but the new context actually makes it all seem completely illogical. The film doesn't really benefit from much scrutiny. It's really just banking on its epic sweep and its gorgeous stars to convey a sense of gravity that isn't really written into the script. This whole thing is theoretically grounded in the tensions of World War II, but the film puts forth a somewhere schlocky narrative that involves some really strange, risky decisions made in pursuit of a secret.
And the thing is, the story would be better told from the perspective of another character. This story is structured as a mystery, but its denouement ends up being built on emotions we don't get to see. We see so much of the search, and not enough of what these characters are going through. The movie definitely wants us to feel something for these people at the very end, but it doesn't spend time on the various personal conflicts that would make its ideas work. The film runs headlong into a pretty silly battle, when the real struggle is supposed to be internal.
The film is most engaging when it does settle on little details of life. The camera at times drifts through locations in long, unbroken takes, offering a sense of what life was like in these stifling settings. It all goes off the rails when it foregoes that intimacy for a greater sense of scale. It externalizes the drama in ludicrous, bombastic ways that don't serve the personal nature of this story. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are two very charismatic actors, and both work their roles well enough. But Cotillard just needed to get more from the script to really work her magic.
Allied is a handsomely mounted production that conveys a sense of prestige, but it feels hollow. It is, in theory, a very deep, emotional story about a man and a woman stuck in an impossible way situation. In practice, its devotion to gloss and spectacle keep it from feeling like a human story. Instead of focusing in on what these characters are feeling, it goes on a wild goose chase for a bit of truth that shouldn't really matter at all. The love should be the point here. The film makes it all about the answers.