Be careful who you trust
A Film Review
Special to the Sun
A prickly romance informs corporate espionage in the latest film from Tony Gilroy. As a writer, Gilroy’s resume includes the “Bourne” movie screenplays (based on the books by Robert Ludlum) and “Michael Clayton.” The latter film, like this Gilroy original, the writer also directs.
For those seeking adult entertainment, Gilroy’s films are pleasurably smart, but in an effort to seem smarter than they are, these last two scripts are riddled with condescending moments. Additionally, “Duplicity” strives to update the gold standard of banter between adversarial lovebirds such as William Powell and Myrna Loy in the “Thin Man” films from the ’30s and ’40s. Gilroy’s duplication falls short, though it does create many satisfying scenes.
In “Duplicity,” Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play spies falling in lust and beyond. When they first cross paths, he’s an MI6 Agent, she’s CIA. The pair fall into bed shortly after Roy (Owen) charms Claire (Roberts) at a party. Though he’s a top-level spy, it never occurs to Roy to that Claire might be after the sensitive information he has cached in his hotel room until he discovers she’s stolen it.
Women may appreciate that Claire operates on all eight cylinders while Roy hobbles along on five, presumably because he is smitten. Aside from the occasional doubt, Roy nevertheless believes in Claire. This is paramount to the plot, since, after tussling over their competing agendas, Claire suggests they both take jobs in corporate security so they can steal secrets that will make them stinking rich.
Against the backdrop of a jet-set lifestyle in 5-star hotels, ocean front rentals, upscale corporate offices and fine champagne, Roy thinks smallish while Claire plots large. Roberts eschews her once doe-eyed beauty for hard edged, arching eyebrows, and precisely arranged hair. It works for this role, helping her to convey a calculating vixen taking no prisoners. Owen’s smooth, more open manner is less of a success, perhaps intentionally. The actor has a marvelous bit posing as the ultimate seductive male making the upscale bar scene.
Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti are excellently cast as corporate CEOs drawn into Claire’s scheme. Wilkinson’s character rules in a detached manner while Giamatti is a down-in-the-dirt mudslinger.
Given its gorgeous locales and fun plot, the film’s missteps are forgivable. Early on it becomes clear there will be twists within twists, even countertwists. This pretzely construction requires Gilroy to bounce back and forth in time so he can reveal these convolutions in the order of his choosing.
The director’s flourish is repeating a key scene ” taking a different form in each incarnation ” five separate times. Each repeat reveals something new, a duplicity that shifts our understanding. His unique manipulation is likely to show up in film classes, and deserves every champagne toast it gets.