Duplicity - Film Review

Posted on 21. Mar, 2009 by in Film/TV

by Brent Simon

Duplicity, the second film behind the camera from Michael Clayton writer-director Tony Gilroy, would have you believe it’s a spry little battle-of-the-sexes con movie — a two-handed theatrical holdover for the same audiences that have flocked to Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels, until the schedules of its Hollywood heavyweights can be coordinated to crank out another installment. It is not. Not really, not first and foremost. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Quite the opposite, really.

No, instead Duplicity is a subversive high-wire romance, with the MacGuffin, or unknown plot element, serving as a metaphorical placeholder for the surging hormonal attraction, trepidation, and uncertainty of love’s bloom. It’s true that Duplicity recalls other con/heist flicks, from obvious benchmarks like Out of Sight and the chatty, erudite Heist to more stylized or colorfully drawn character fare like Lucky Number Slevin and James Foley’s Confidence. But Duplicity is incidentally a con movie. It’s also fun, engaging, and pleasurable as all get-out.

 The story centers on Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and Ray Koval (Clive Owen), two spies turned corporate security operatives who work hard and flirt harder. An abbreviated romantic encounter many years ago gives the duo plenty of backstory. That shared history comes bubbling to the surface when they meet again and find themselves on opposite sides of a brewing corporate war between two captains of industry (Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti), bitter enemies who are each out to secure a product that promises a fortune to the company that patents it first.

 Working from his own script, Gilroy smartly layers his film in a way that continually doles out little surprises over the course of its two-hour running time, in much the same fashion as a parent parceling out snacks and other little games on a long car trip. These flashbacks deepen the relationship between Claire and Ray, and form the movie’s spine. Gilroy also has a deft touch with smart, playful banter, which keeps things fun. And the care with which Duplicity‘s big-money shell-game plot is rendered also offers up its own seductive enjoyment — big egos done in by their own hubris.

 Mainly, though, the film is about honesty — its boundaries and limits, and the freedom it ultimately affords. And it’s here that Roberts and Owen — a man born to wear linen suits — excel, capturing the inner head-games of two smooth, natural-born deceivers who are trying to reconcile their basic mutual attraction and problematic personal lives with the very impulses, namely distrust and doubt, that make them such valuable professional assets. In this regard, Duplicity might be called a romantic procedural, because in the end it’s less about the sizzle-chemistry of its stars than the moods and tones of first falling under love’s sway. All that money? Big stakes, for sure. What the heart wants? Even bigger stakes. (Universal, PG-13, 118 minutes)

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