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Movie Review: Duplicity

By Justin Velazquez
March 22, 2009

Writer/director Tony Gilroy follows up his 2007 Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton with this stylish and shrewd film that explores the depths and complexities of corporate espionage.  Oscar nominee Clive Owen (The International) and Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) reunite for their first film together since 2004's Closer. 

Duplicity suffers from the confusion concerning whether it's a crime caper, a romantic comedy or a straight thriller.  Beyond the uncertainty, the banter between the two principle actors is fresh, witty and slick as the dialogue and sexual tension make for a vibrant film.  Still, Duplicity may be too smart for its own good.

Ray Koval (Owen) is ex-MI6 while Claire Stenwick (Roberts) is ex-CIA.  A few years back the two met, flirted and bedded one another.  At the time both were on the clock and the chance encounter was really an operation where one mark took down the other.  Claire is smart and beautiful and she used her talents to seduce Ray and steal secret documents from him.  Ray is just as smart and cunning - he can be seen as the male counterpart to Claire but in this case just let his guard down. 

This initial encounter is integral in establishing the non-traditional dynamic that the two share - a cat-and-mouse game where the roles of cat and mouse are constantly changing.  They begin a playful, conniving relationship where the excitement is fueled by constant uncertainly and misdirection.  Their ruse is paramount as the pair concocts a plan to take their services to the private sector - an area where deception and suspicion are just as common as talking and breathing.

Howard Tully (two-time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson) and Richard Garsik (Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti) are leaders of competing multinational conglomerates and they will stop at nothing to top each other.  Because of their insatiable hunger to succeed at all costs the two multimillionaires seem susceptible to slipping up and making mistakes that could cost millions.  That's where Ray and Claire step in. 

Claire is already on board working for Equikrom (Garsik's company) and in turn is a mole working counter-intelligence for Equikrom's rival, Burkett & Randle (Tully's company).  Ultimately, Claire and Ray plan to fleece one of the companies for the details of a revolutionary new product in development.  This miracle product, when revealed, is certainly a difference maker and the company that owns the patent will obviously corner that market and make millions... possibly billions. 

Ray comes on while the wheels are already in motion as a member of Equikrom's team.  What starts out as a simple hatchet job turns into an entire series of corporate malfeasance and wrongdoing where Claire and Ray's clandestine affair and growing love for each other is severely tested and in constant conflict with their naturalistic tendencies to distrust anyone they meet. 

Gilroy is quickly becoming another Steven Soderbergh - at least in my eyes.  Already a proven screenwriter (you can thank him for penning the Bourne films) his talent for direction has come to be equally noticed.  Duplicity, if anything, is slick, smart and fast-paced even for a film that contains no action.  The action comes courtesy of the tension and overall good chemistry between Roberts and Owen.  Their characters are reminiscent of the unforgettable male-female exchanges in Soderbergh gems like Out of Sight (George Clooney charming Jennifer Lopez) and Ocean's Eleven (Clooney again, this time charming Roberts).  Both Wilkinson and Giamatti provide memorable roles and their exchange during the opening credits is a perfect metaphor for the war that takes place throughout. 

The beauty of Duplicity is that the fighting is more subtle and provocative and isn't exclusive to Equikrom and Burkett & Randle.  As mentioned earlier, the film may suffer because of all the two-timing.  Never in the film can the viewer rest - what can seemingly be true and certain at one moment can unravel just as quickly the next, and that level of uncertainly may leave the viewer exhausted and confused.  But the ride is certainly thrilling - just be ready because there are certainly a few bumps along the way.

Three Stars out of Four

Comments (2)

I just got back from seeing this film and had to look up a review on this movie to see if I missed something. I read in the paper this movie was good and it got 3 out of 4 stars. I would give it 1 out of 4.

The movie script is lacking as it does leave the viewer exhausted and confused as commented in this review. That exhaustion led to many people in the row I was sitting in to fall asleep.

Save your money, don't fall victim to the hype machine on this file.

JFS | March 22, 2009 9:44 PM

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