Fiction or Fable? “Allied” might not be the film you are expecting, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s 1942, World War II is raging in Europe, and a lone Canadian in the Royal Air Force is Parachuting down into the middle of an Egyptian desert. This man is Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a spy on a mission to assassinate a Nazi Ambassador who will be visiting Casablanca in 10 days time. To accomplish this he is paired up with a deep cover French Resistance Fighter already living in Morocco. Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) is as cunning as she is beautiful. Max regards her with a cautious eye, pondering her every action. When he comments on her skill as a spy, she responds, “I keep the emotions real. That’s why it works.”
It’s comments like these, and other small visual clues that plant the seeds of doubt into both Max, and the audience. Regardless, shortly after the mission, Max is able to secure safe passage for the now pregnant Marianne to London where they marry.
Here they seem to have one of those absolutely perfect lives that only exist in movies as a sign of terrible things to come. Max continues to operate within the Royal Air Force but has retired from the clandestine V-Section assignments. That is until V-section comes looking for him. There’s a German spy in the area, a woman, and evidence points towards Marianne. Max is forced to comply with a 72 hours weekend operation that they put into motion with the hopes of positively identifying the spy. If his wife is identified as the agent, standard procedure dictates that Max must execute her with his own hand, or go to the gallows himself.
What follows is a slow burn of increasing doubt, lies, mistrust, and emotional flip-flops. As time runs out, Max becomes more obsessed with finding the truth, and his actions become more outlandish. There are moments where the film seems to be telegraphing very predictable outcomes. Other moments feel almost out of place as if they belong to a different movie or scene. Major visual metaphors almost heavy-handedly punctuate the emotional state of their relationship. (A passionate sandstorm, a birth during an air raid, and a literal “crash & burn”)
Is director Robert Zemeckis just trying to tell us a thrilling romantic story? Or is there more to it than that? If we consider it to be not just a story, but a fable, all the pieces fit together better. The dreamlike haze over the backgrounds in Casablanca, the subtle nods to other films, Max himself reading a Graham Green book in bed: It’s all a touch too surreal to be taken for granted. Is it a simple tale, or something entirely different? Isn’t it fascinating what introducing a little doubt can do…