- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Bob Westal
he romance of Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) is simple enough. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have sex, girl drugs boy and steals incriminating documents. Just another day in the internecine jockeying between the CIA and MI6, but there’s a spark between these two crazy, mendacious kids. It’s only a matter of a few years before they go into corporate espionage, where the real spy money is, and become involved in a battle over a super-secret new product being fought over by CEO Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and his nemesis, overbearing corporate whiz-kid Dick Garsil (Paul Giamatti). Their aim: snag the whatsis, sell it to a third party, and get the better of both bosses to the tune of, say, $35 million.
Now, if I made one error in my plot description above is that I made “Duplicity” sound much simpler than it is. Second-time writer-director Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) does his best to make things more complex with tricky, Soderbergh-style split-screen flashbacks and flash-forwards that fill in the back story, or the front story, whenever he deems it convenient for our entertainment. Switching from the engrossing but overheated drama of his multi-award winning debut, here Gilroy goes for a very cool comedy of low morals.
These nonviolent spy vs. spy hi-jinks are a very long way from his work as the main screenwriter on the Bourne series. Bon mots and plot twists fly instead of bullets or karate kicks. At its most fun, “Duplicity” plays like the caper film Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn never made, blended with the steam and visual pizzazz of the 1968 thriller “Thomas Crown Affair.”
As someone who wants Hollywood to return to such old-school values as (stop me if I sound too radical) characterization and storytelling, I have to applaud what Tony Gilroy is up to here. Not only does he provide his characters with real words to say and real intellectual and emotional concerns to explore, he populates his film with actual adults. They don’t really look it, but both stars are in their 40s, and bald and pudgy Paul Giamatti is actually one of the younger members of the supporting cast.
And it’s a terrific supporting cast. Of course, Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, in a smaller role, do their usual strong work as the mutually hateful, ego-driven captains of industry. (The funniest part of the entire movie is probably both actor’s facial expression’s as captured during a slow-motion wrestling match between the two super-executives in the film’s opening sequence.) In the secondary role of Claire and Ray’s spy boss, Denis O’Hare – so great as the scummy hit-and-run motorist in “Michael Clayton” – shows his flare for adding unexpected energy to every scene he’s in, as does veteran actress Kathleen Chalfant (“Rescue Me”) as a highly efficient coworker.
All in all, this is a case of a movie simply adding up to less than the sum of its parts. For all its wit, it’s not terribly funny – at times “Duplicity” seems to be going for the drollness of the engaging but sometimes low-laugh English comedy-thrillers of the 1950s – but it’s not as compelling or as emotionally well-rounded as it needs to be to carry us through the entire film. Still, the third act reveal of the actual purpose of the Maguffin is laugh-out-loud funny and leads us to the most cynical “love conquers all” ending in movie history. That’s worth something.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Considering that “Duplicity” was a fairly dramatic box office disappointment (not enough robot fights, I guess), it should come as no surprise that this Blu-ray isn’t exactly chock full of extras. There’s actually only one: an interesting-enough commentary featuring writer director Tony Gilroy and his film editor/co-producer brother, John Gilroy.