Two ex-government agents turned rival industrial spies have to be at the top of their game when one of their companies prepares to launch a major product. However, they distract each other in more ways than one.
Ray works for MI6, Claire for the CIA. She burns him in Dubai. Jump ahead five years: he sees her in Grand Central and confronts her. Both now work in industrial security for corporate giants whose CEOs hate each other. Flashbacks fill us in: is it coincidence that he sees her in Grand Central? In about a week, one of the firms is going to announce a revolutionary product. Under the guise of helping that corporation's rival, can Ray and Claire work their own theft and find an independent buyer? To work together, using the corporate rivalry to their advantage, they would have to trust one another - difficult, if not impossible. Or, is one playing the other?Written by
a throwback to very good "light" Hollywood Hitchcock, with virtues and vices (mostly virtues)
We need more filmmakers like Tony Gilroy in Hollywood right now. Coming off of his debut feature Michael Clayton, after years of working on stuff like the Bourne movies, to his second film Duplicity, he's marked some strong territory as a guy who can work with top-shelf A-list talent and put them in material that is mature just enough to make it safe for the 30+ year olds to see it and not think their intelligence is being wasted. His films provide such a wealth of juicy scenes of dialog and plots that make us think about what the characters will do next as opposed to just spoon-feeding along the conventions. And even if Duplicity is not quite as excellent as his first film (and suffice to say it's got a couple of things that make it tick) it's still a marker of fine entertainment. At the least, it makes for a strong matinée viewing, if one were to rate it such.
Like one of those features from the 40s or 50s from Hitchcock where he would place Cary Grant and (insert blonde bombshell here), Duplicity relies on its stars, and sometimes its dependable character actor supporting players, to make it more about watching them and how they go about the material as opposed to the real specifics of what to worry in the plot itself. Hitchcock wasn't worried about what was really in the "secret" formula since he knew, maybe rightfully so, that the audience doesn't really care either. When will Grant and Kelly have that kiss? It's certainly a lot more fun trying to explain how well Clive Owen and Julia Roberts fit into this classic Hollywood couple mold (not to mention since it's their second time on-screen following the more theater-based Closer) and play off one another than describing how "one is a MI6 and the other CIA and their operatives in these corporate firms and one might be making a toaster oven or yada yada and they both do A and B and..."
So yeah, basically Duplicity is about conning and about not believing what the other person is saying, but at the same time Gilroy toys around with the idea of people who are stuck in a world where by proxy they can't trust one another but get each other so well who the other is at the same time. The characters Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti play- who, by the way, share one of the funniest and most awesome opening credits sequences I've seen in years- are playing checkers in their corporate one-oneupmanship games, but it's Roberts and Owen that are playing chess which is a little brainier but trickier at the same time.
One might criticize that there's almost too much of this back-and-forth guessing and curiously trying to figure out what the other is saying about something. But if done right in a film it can be fun to watch just to see what move or motive or revelation will come next. And Gilroy has casted these two stars so perfectly that you can lose yourself in these scenes where they keep playing the same guessing games (some dialog deliberately repeated). This helps especially when the actual plot becomes a little silly, and particularly when it's revealed in the last ten minutes what the big TWIST has occurred. It won't do any good to explain what it is, but suffice to say it's a little too convenient to put into exposition, and it's been done before. In a script that is otherwise sharp and clever and dramatically pleasing in construction and character Gilroy falls back on a couple of tired devices towards the end.
It comes dangerously close, as Ebert pointed out, to saying simply "who cares?" But, thankfully, Duplicity does, for at least roughly in total 2/3 of the running time, give us characters to care about and go along for the ride with and so have this sheer joy of an A-list movie that tries to be about the guessing game and cons and covert operations and the nature of this whole thing Gilroy's dealing with. And the last shot, thankfully, tries to put a good coda on everything that's happened. It's a glossy, breezy time in usually the best way. 7.5/10
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