Here’s a movie that has an outstanding cast, headed by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard; an interesting story, based on a real incident, about a married couple working as intelligence agents for the UK in World War II; and a highly acclaimed director, Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Contact, Back to the Future).  Yet the movie isn’t really that good.  How did that happen?

My own theory is that the director couldn’t decide whether he was making a wartime romance, like Casablanca, or a spy thriller.  He decided he wanted to remake Casablanca.   Much of Allied seems intentionally designed to evoke that earlier movie — the early scenes in Morocco, the closing scene on a landing strip, even Cotillard’s costumes.  This was an unfortunate choice. Focusing on the romance, the director spends far too little time on the spy thriller aspects of the story, which are actually pretty interesting.  Important clues and plot twists occur in short, poorly staged scenes, which seem to go by too fast.  By the time you get to the dramatic closing scene, it doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should have had.

Casablanca took an unusual path to success — a second-rate story, with often cheesy dialogue, it happened to catch the national mood, offering an optimistic outlook during the darkest days of World War II.  Bogart and Bergman never appeared together in a movie again — perhaps realizing, as Zemeckis did not, that Casablanca was like a Stradivarius violin — whatever it was that made it great could not be repeated.

Pitt and Cotillard have good on-screen chemistry; I’d like to see them again sometime in a better movie.

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