Friday, 02 December 2016
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play spooks whose love complicates their mission
Written by Jason Solomons
Did, as tabloid rumour had it, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard really have an affair during the making of Second World War spy drama Allied? Will we, 40 years from now, pore over their text messages and get steamy revelations, like those from Carrie Fisher regarding her and Harrison Ford on the set of Star Wars?
After an appearance together on the London red carpet that gave little away, our next port of call should be the evidence now in front of us, namely Allied itself. Playing spies who have to pretend to be married, they certainly do a lot of kissing and share a memorable sex scene in an old car while a sandstorm whips and thrashes all around them, a harbinger of something or other.
But, let’s be honest, the screen hardly melts with incandescent real-life chemistry. I’m tempted to think that maybe Brad and Marion were trying to hide their real passion and deliver a deliberately muted onscreen chemistry. Or not. Could the whole story have just been a marketing ploy, an old-fashioned studio fixer’s gossip column plant?
Ah, the old double-bluff. The thing is, with spies, you never can tell, because – and this is what makes Allied smarter than it looks or plays – Brad and Marion are pretending. They’re actors in life, see, playing spies on screen, who are pretending to be a married couple, but who then really do get married. The whole thing is about what’s real, in life and in relationships, and can we ever tell.
Brad is wing commander Max Vatan, a handsome chap, in a wartime matinee idol sort of a way. Marion is Marianne Beauséjour, a French spy in Casablanca. Max parachutes in, trudges across the dunes and into the Rivoli Club, pretending to be her husband, but speaking such bad French that he could give the game away.
After the sandstorm sex, they put aside their attraction for a moment and, with professional spy efficiency, do their mission at the ambassador’s reception. Then the action moves to wartime Hampstead, location for some pub knees-ups, a spot of domesticity and a desk job, until Simon McBurney shows up. ‘I’m a rat catcher,’ he tells Max. ‘And your wife is a German spy’.
Now Max has to discover the truth – is this woman and mother of his baby really French resistance heroine Marianne Beauséjour, or is she an enemy agent passing confidential information to Hitler?
Some of it is a bit silly, I grant you, but you never stop guessing or trying to read the clues. Your eyes are fixed to the faces, to the shadows, interpreting every gesture for a double or triple layer of meaning.
It’s a pastiche, of course, knowingly so – you can’t set a movie in Casablanca without expecting references. But it becomes the perfect genre for a film about appearances, faking and pretence, a film which plays with all levels of reality – is the immaculate-looking desert even real, or a studio lot backdrop?
Serially underrated director Robert Zemeckis has often played with layers and levels, with the creation of realities, whether in his Back To The Future series, or in Who Framed Roger Rabbit or the stereoscopic animations such as the Polar Express. What that doesn’t give you is edge or toughness, but it does make it all an elaborate movie game.
I loved the heightened production design, the cigarettes, the air raids, the kitchen cabinets and Cotillard’s shades of lipstick which decorate her Bergman-like smiles. The costumes by Joanna Johnston are immaculate, from Brad’s RAF uniform to Marion’s sexy nightrobes.
Allied looks studiedly old- fashioned, effortlessly yet knowingly conjuring up old-school movie romance even while casting postmodern layers of doubt on the whole show, asking us to question everything that’s before our eyes. As someone once said: here’s looking at you.