Ryan's Review: Tony Gilroy's Duplicity
by Ryan Mazie
March 22, 2009
Julia Roberts, as luminous as ever, graces her way back onto the big screen as a leading lady in the droll, sleek, and sexy spy-thriller, Duplicity. Heating up the screen with Clive Owen, the thespian duo does their best to keep things light and audiences guessing the motives for all 125 minutes. Swapping Mr. & Mrs. Smith's brawn for brains, without Roberts's methodical scheming lines or Owen's hurried wily quips, Duplicity just misses from becoming a casualty from its own smarts.
Second-time director Tony Gilroy whose previous corporate corruption tale, Michael Clayton, could have also went by this title, puts a brighter spin on Duplicity that is apparent from the opening credits that begin in Dubai, 2003 and end in New York, Present Day. As the film progresses we jut back-and-forth, country-to-country, all to tell the story of two spies. One of the two is the meticulously cunning CIA agent, Claire Stenwick (Roberts). The other is the naturally sly MI6 operative, Ray Koval (Clive Owen).
The two lovers, who are interested in living in luxury for the rest of their lives, leave their government posts in favor for top secret security positions for major corporations. Their plan is to pick rival companies and sell each other's secrets for a lucrative profit to split, assuming the couple does not backstab each other first. Stenwick finds herself on the side of major corporation, Burkett Randle, run by tycoon megalomaniac, Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Koval is positioned with Burkett Randle's rival, Equikrom, headed by brash showman, Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti).
When a letter is sent to both of the rivals claiming that Burkett Randle is on the verge of releasing a breakthrough product, the couple is sent scrabbling to figure out what this mystery item might be letting the spying and duplicity kick into full gear.
As the spies outsmart each other, writer-director Tony Gilroy seems to forget that there is an audience watching that he is largely outsmarting as well. The globe-trotting, fractured timeline does not help either, but patience is eventually rewarded and you see two talented actors on the top of their game lighting the way. Gilroy never keeps the camera at one place for too long, having the film and plot roll along at a high speed, keeping the audience on it's toes, but the ones who step out will likely find themselves unable to catch up. Unlike the fairly drab-colored Michael Clayton, Gilroy is stylized here with the fun and lively use of split-screen.
Julia Roberts is poised and refined with impeccable timing and a great bluff. Clive Owen welcomingly drops his serious and somber expression that has been molded upon his face for his last few films to relax and show a much wittier side to himself. The couple who also burned up the screen in 2004's Closer, produce plenty of steam here, but never start a fire as their constant poker faces stand in the way. While one wants to see the two succeed together, their continuous deceit and lies have you question if there is any real love between the two at all. This is a question that the two characters wonder throughout the movie, even while they are sleeping together, because in fact they might just be gaming one another for their individual gain.
The acting is fine and enjoyable, but Roberts and Owen seem to be playing for laughs. The problem is the elongated script mainly provides smirks. This makes it seem like a failed laugh instead of a quick grimace.
Paul Giamatti is spot-on as the fairly nutty honcho while Tom Wilkinson is more subdued, creating an odd rivalry. The rest of the supporting cast is well-rounded and help sturdy the plot for the two main stars to have their escapades. "True Blood's" Carrie Preston is one of the film's standout supporters who is in both of the true laugh out loud scenes in the film. One paired with a bumbling Clive Owen and the second with a deadpan Julia Roberts.
The title of the film warns you for what is ahead: duplicity. Lots and lots of duplicity. With everything tying up nicely at the end for an amusing outcome, the rest of the film seems like an unsolvable puzzle until that point. While it is fun to be in the same shoes as the characters themselves, in this film it becomes a growing test of patience as the lies build upon each other. The jumbled timeline throws almost all hope away of guessing what will happen next, but it seems like an easy way out of throwing the viewers off. However, the twist ending a great shocker that is as ingenious as it is duplicitous.
Certainly a smart film that stands a part from the typical spy-thriller fare, Duplicity is a worthwhile payoff to see if you want to be intellectually stimulated while entertained.
Ryan's Rating: 7.5 out of 10