Better jaw-jaw than war-war, said Winston Churchill. But he wasn’t thinking of the movies and he hadn’t seen Allied. “More matter and less natter” we vainly plead as Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard agonise on in this creaky costume drama set in wartime Casablanca and London. Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump) and writer Steven Knight (Locke) have both done fine things. This isn’t one of them.
The costumes are from the Reach for the Sky surplus store: dashing RAF outfits for him, a Canadian working for British intelligence; stoical but stylish waiting-wife frocks for her, a French spy whisked from French north Africa after the cinegenic pair — is it too early to call them Bradrion? — have assassinated the German ambassador at a Nazi-attended party.
Everything goes downhill from there. We slalom down the stichomythic slopes of jaw-jaw, relieved only by some special-effects spectacle in the London Blitz, as Pitt’s peers insist he examine his wife in case she is — how to un-spoilingly put this? — other than she seems. The happy couple get unhappier, buckling under pressure. And though we’re thankful they have stopped speaking French, it’s hard to say that Brad purring “Tu es magnifique” in Morocco is worse than the spell-it-out, show-the-label scripting we get in London. “Marriages made in the field never work” perorates Jared Harris as Pitt’s senior. “I’m a rat catcher” says Simon McBurney’s internal affairs geek, baldly brandishing his brand.
A fantastically silly late scene in Dieppe — a night mission that goes dashingly awry — surely resulted from a studio suit’s protest: “We’ve got to have some action in this film.” Elsewhere it’s melodrama pure and talky. It’s a by-the-cliché love-and-war romp anxious to invoke Casablanca yet directed with pastel-toned inertia, going on paralysis, by an ex-Roger Rabbit director who seems caught in the headlights of a new, if hardly challenging (you’d think), challenge.