North Africa 1942, we follow a lone parachutist drifting gently towards the sand dunes. Meeting a car, they sit in the rear sifting through various passport persona’s as they prepare to be the loving husband of “Marianne Beauséjour” (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca, despite never having met.
“Max Vatan” (Brad Pitt) and his fake wife are secret agents, on a deep under cover mission to murder the German ambassador. The “couple” simulate a loving relationship, including play acting post coital simpering on the rooftop during balmy evenings, to keep the shutter twitching neighbors believing the lie.
Friendships are made and subsequently fatally betrayed, all in the name of obtaining a ticket to the ambassadors drinks party. Do the fake lovers become real? – with two “A” list stars on the payroll, it would be difficult to bet against the house.
As the action switches back to a war time based London, the couple’s life progresses as couples do. Max remains in the army as part of the Canadian contingent yet subject to the whims of “V” section, a secret division.
The film is well staged with expensive locations and period settings. Cotillard is understandably more suited to a French accent and appears more comfortable with the role, with Pitt struggling to find his feet, yet the action sequences are effective enough.
As the story moves to “gor blimey guv’nor” London based setting, this only serves to highlight the Hollywood star out of comfort zone feeling, albeit hidden behind the ostensible “Canadian” force detachment fig leaf.
Are the couple really together, can we really trust anyone?
This tension is played out effectively against a backdrop of rather cliched (as they must be) English scenes. A later diversion to France is well handled but somehow Pitt is never really believable in the role as a cold blooded indifferent killer.
There is little chemistry generated by the leads, you never really believe they are together, with Cotillard defining her character best. Pitt feels miscast, presented with a hopeless task of portraying a 1940’s character with his established 21st century persona.
Essentially a determinedly old fashioned film, from accomplished director Robert Zemeckis, whilst deploying modern techniques and effects. Aiming for a sweeping period set war time melodrama/thriller hybrid in the mould of a modern “Casablanca” plus “any period English war film”, hitting that relatively easy target most of the time.
Box office suggests audiences were not entirely sold on the concept with the film returning its $85m budget with relatively small momentum thereafter.
Not the best wartime spy based resistance movie you will ever see, nor the worst. With the talent and money involved this might have been better
However, this makes for an enjoyable if not very realistic couple of hours with interesting characters sketched out by well regarded actors, aided by expensive production values.