Subterfuge and seduction are a hair’s width apart in this tense thriller from veteran director Robert Zemeckis. As first collaborating field agents, and then lovers, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard demonstrate the importance of acting in both. Whether fooling a Nazi officer or making someone fall in love with them, neither is ever being 100% honest.
Such is the way with all spy stories, but the script by Steven Knight brings a self-aware touch that plays entertainingly on such familiarity. Marianne (Cotillard) is particularly prone to spelling out every step of their deception but it’s mostly charming rather than patronising.
As Max (Pitt) discovers Marianne is suspected of being a German spy, Zemeckis zooms in on his anger and fear. Pitt is strong here, but he’s let down by a lack of groundwork in the romance. Knight’s script shows flair with the spy dynamics but fails to humanise the two as lovers. They and Zemeckis must bear responsibility too. Cotillard teases a bit too much to be believed – which is sort of the point – but has to fight for romantic believability as a result.
Zemeckis uses his flair for CGI to create some powerful images – two sequences reminding us of the constant Blitz-time threat of airborne attack are particularly strong. There is also a brilliant setpiece that swirls around a house party, showcasing Max at the height of his paranoia. It delights in wrong-footing the audience but in the end Max proves to be a clueless protagonist in a few too many ways.
A veteran spy who needs basic roleplaying explained to him, and a devoted husband who rarely expresses emotion towards his wife. It never quite manages to add up. Pitt and Cotillard are frustratingly close to nailing their characters, but despite missteps, create an engrossing spy thriller.
CAST: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
WRITER: Steven Knight
SYNOPSIS: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.