PLOT During World War II, the love between an intelligence officer and a French Resistance fighter is strained by suspicion.
CAST Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard
RATED R (some strong violence)
BOTTOM LINE A grand wartime romance with nods to Hitchcock and “Casablanca.” Thoroughly satisfying.
“The guns will be taped under the Champagne table,” says the French knockout to the handsome officer posing as her husband. She is Marianne Beauséjour, a Resistance fighter played by Marion Cotillard; he is Max Vatan, of the British Special Operations Executive, played by Brad Pitt; and we are rooting for them every step of the way in “Allied,” Robert Zemeckis’ grand salute to the classic films of the 1940s.
A 50-50 cocktail of “Casablanca” and “Notorious,” Zemeckis’ film begins with a sweeping landscape of the French Moroccan desert and the lone figure of Max, who parachutes from high in the sky to the sand below in a single, continuous shot. It’s a sign that Zemeckis’ usual ostentatious camerawork (“Flight”) and high-tech trickery (“The Walk”) will subtly enhance this unabashedly old-fashioned movie.
The story is rich in details but simple enough: Max and Marianne have been paired up, sight unseen, to pose as a couple in Casablanca and assassinate the German ambassador. Max’s driver drops him at the Rivoli and utters, “Look for the hummingbird.” (The terrific script comes from Steven Knight, of “Eastern Promises.”) Sure enough, Marianne sits at a table, a silk jacket with a hummingbird draped over her chair. Max’s long look and Marianne’s dazzling smile tell us they’re already in love.
“Allied” heightens its drama and romance at every possible turn. When Max proposes, they’re racing through town in a getaway car. And when their baby is born in London, it’s in the middle of the Blitz. “This is really me! As I am before God!” Marianne screams during labor. That shivery line resonates later, when an unnamed British official (a brief but excellent Simon McBurney) informs Max that his wife may be a German spy.
What follows is Max’s desperate attempt to prove Marianne’s innocence, even if it means a daring flight to France. If the movie’s second half flags slightly, it’s because we know there’s only one way this story can end. That, however, doesn’t stop us from basking in the luminous glow of Cotillard and Pitt, or from relishing the movie’s gorgeous period details. Of all the movies in all the multiplexes in all the world, you’ve got to walk into “Allied.”