“Allied” opens in Casablanca, home to the most classic of World War II movies. Its protagonists, Marianne (Marion Cotillard) and Max (Brad Pitt) are spies, she on behalf of the French Resistance and he as a Canadian officer in the Royal Air Force. Marianne teaches Max how to be a good spy, which requires him to pretend to be her loving husband, and to do so convincingly. Their mission to assassinate the Nazi Ambassador in Morocco is successful. Predictably, they fall in love and get married “for real.”
The movie is engrossing and entertaining. The audience roots for Marianne and Max — for their love affair as much as for the British, Canadian, and French Resistance fighters who are the movie’s real heroes.
Ultimately, though, Max is called to a meeting with the Royal Air Force command under the guise of a promotion. Instead, Max is told that Marianne is a double agent. The real Marianne has died fighting before the movie begins. Cotillard’s character has assumed her identity. That Ambassador in Casablanca? A dissident whom Hitler wanted dead.
Max goes on a quest to prove that his wife is no traitor. We continue to pull for them and for their family, now including an infant daughter born during a London air raid.
Alas, “Marianne” has been spying — yes, on Max — all along. And yet, the filmmakers persist.
First, Cotillard’s never-named character, the fake “Marianne,” claims that she had no choice; the Nazis threatened their infant daughter’s life if she wouldn’t cooperate. But that character had been a Nazi before ever meeting Max. Worse, the film treats the claim of “no choice” uncritically. Couldn’t Marianne have told Max, the two going to their Allied supervisors together, perhaps ultimately being secreted away to Canada with their young daughter?
After her suicide is reported as Max’s having carried out his duty to execute his treacherous “wife,” we are treated to a sepia-toned ending. Sobs reverberate in the theater. We hear Cotillard’s voice behind images of that infant daughter growing up back in Canada with her single father, a wedding photograph of “Marianne” and Max prominently on display. Cotillard’s character reads a letter she has written to her daughter the night before her suicide, proclaiming her undying love.
No. Nazis are Nazis. In England. In 1944. No tears should be shed at her death, and no real Max would prominently display his deceptive wife’s photograph as a role model for the daughter he raises in postwar Canada.
Even the film’s apparently redeeming feature betrays the past. Max’s sister lives openly with her female partner, and they are treated much as a lesbian couple would be in 2016, dishonoring the sacrifices required of and the indignities suffered by same-sex couples of the era the movie purports to portray.
“Allied” deserves none of the critical accolades it has received, and its makers do not deserve its suspense to be maintained to draw unsuspecting viewers like me into the cinema. “Allied” is a beautiful love story and captivating film only if being a Nazi is less incriminating than being in love is endearing.
Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.