Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 4 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 5; Language 4; Sex 5/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 3
Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace…
Robert Zemeckis injects a bit of WW 2’s Casablanca into his bittersweet romantic war thriller. At the beginning a man parachutes into the desert and is picked up and taken to the city of Casablanca. He is Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a member of Britain’s Special Operations force. At a night club, he rendezvouses with French Resistance agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who rushes to greet him as the Parisian husband her dinner companions have not met. They live together as husband and wife, and venture into the desert to practice shooting. Their mission is to assassinate the soon-to-arrive German ambassador. After a bit of suspense with a Nazi officer, they manage to secure invitations to an evening reception for the Nazi ambassador.
Somehow, they manage to strap two rapid fire guns beneath one of the reception room tables, and when the ambassador descends the stairs, they shoot him and most of the guards. (I suppose I should reveal that just before this the couple give in to their emotions and make passionate love in their car amidst a desert sand storm—just in case you missed the third category of the contents rating.) Max invites her to join him in London so they can marry, and she agrees
Back in Britain’s capital the pair marry for real and produce a daughter, the baby being delivered while the city is being bombed. Max works at a desk job, and Marianne apparently is occupied keeping house and nurturing their infant. His work involves keeping in contact with secret agents on the continent, and thus many secret documents pass through him.
A year of marriage and parenthood passes, one that involves a damaged German bomber almost hitting their flat. One day Max’s commanding officer, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris), and an S.O.E. official (Simon McBurney) confront him with shocking news. Marianne is suspected of spying for the Germans. They have a report that the Nazis had killed the real Marianne Beausejour, and that Max’s wife was given the dead partisan’s papers. When Max objects that the two of them had killed the German ambassador, the S.O.E. agent reveals that the German had been a dissident whom Hitler had wanted killed anyway. He declares that Max must kill his wife or risk being executed along with her. Max is furious, but when he calms down, agrees to play along, hoping secretly to prove them wrong.
The next section of the film shows Max desperately seeking out various men who had known Marianne. Max deeply loves the mother of his child, and she obviously loves him. After each interrogation, he is left with uncertainty. He even manages one night to fly an arms cache to Resistance members in a French village where he knows that a member of Marianne’s group is being held in jail. He convinces the partisans to raid the jail and hold it long enough for him to show the man his wife’s picture. (This is most unlikely, but it adds an additional thrill to the story!) The terrified man thinks the woman looks like his former comrade, and he offers a clue by which Max will be able to discover the truth.
How all this doubt and anguish are resolved will probably leave a lump in your throat, reinforced by the very last scene in the film. I found it very moving, even though the episode of Max’s foray into occupied France was not very believable. The filmmakers want to convince us that we are watching a modern version of the classic Casablanca, but the unconvincing mixture of violent thriller and tender romance falls short of their goal. The film, starring two of filmdom’s Beautiful People, is a pleasant entertainment if you can go along with the film’s early scene of Tarantino-like slaughter (after all, they’re Nazis), but not at all the hoped-for romantic classic that we will be watching for decades to come.
This review with a set of questions will be in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP.