Monday, March 23, 2009

Movie Review: Duplicity

Duplicity ***
Directed By:
Tony Gilroy.
Written By: Tony Gilroy.
Starring: Clive Owen (Ray Koval), Julia Roberts (Claire Stenwick), Tom Wilkinson (Howard Tully), Paul Giamatti (Richard Garsik), David Shumbris (Turtleneck), Rick Worthy (Dale Raimes), Oleg Shtefanko (Boris Fetyov), Denis O'Hare (Duke Monahan), Kathleen Chalfant (Pam Frailes), Khan Baykal (Dinesh Patel), Thomas McCarthy (Jeff Bauer), Wayne Duvall (Ned Guston).

Duplicity is one of those movies where you cannot trust for a second what you see on the screen. The movie is an intricate puzzle, only gradually doling out all the pieces of information needed to fill in the gaps. These types of movies often infuriate me – as I do not feel that they really play fair with the audience – but this one gets by on the talent and charm of its stars, and the skill of the screenplay and direction by Tony Gilroy. This isn’t going to win any awards, like Gilroy’s debut film Michael Clayton did, but it is a solid entertainer. Sometimes, that’s enough.

The movie is about two spies with a history. When we first meet Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), he is a MI-6 agent, and she is a CIA-agent who both happen to be in Dubai. They meet, they flirt, they have sex, she drugs him and steals the information he is carrying. We then flash forward several years. They are employed by rival mega-corporations in their internal intelligence division. She is a mole inside one of them, and he is assigned to be her handler. Sparks fly. It seems like the company headed by CEO Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) has just made a major breakthrough of some kind on a product that will revolution something. The company headed by Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), wants to know what this product is. This is where Claire and Ray come in. She’s on the insider of Tully’s corporation, and he on Garsik’s. If she can feed the correct information to him, they can all get rich. Of course, there are twists and turns in the plot, and we are never 100% sure on who we can trust. We suspect that half of the people could be double agents, or triple agents, and everything we see and hear may just be all part of a game. Then again, that’s half the fun.

Duplicity takes place in a similar world as Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, although the two films couldn’t be more different in terms of style and tone. Whereas Michael Clayton looked at the rotting cesspool of corporate greed, and created a central character that may come to represent the feelings of many Americans as the financial crisis worsens, Duplicity plays it all as a game. Perhaps the film would be a little more fun without the current crisis – where we have come to realize that many corporations really do play it all as a game, and the losers are always us.

But you can’t really fault the movie for that. It is looking to be an escapist caper film, and at that it works wonderfully well – mainly because of the charm and skill of the two leads. It’s nice to see Clive Owen loosen up again, and allow himself to be more cheerful and charming. This is the first time in I don’t know how long I have seen the man genuinely smile in a movie – and he’s got a killer smile. If the character was an American, George Clooney would undoubtedly play him, and I can think of no higher complement than to say Owen matches Clooney’s immense charm and presence. He fits into this world effortlessly. This is also the exact type of role that Roberts excels at. She struggles when she has to play a “realistic” character, but few are as skilled as she is at the “movie star” type role she has here. Everything about her screams movie star, and she plays this role to pretty much perfection. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who could have done it better. They are backed by a skilled supporting cast – especially both Wilkinson and Giamatti who are not afraid to go wildly over the top and do so with great flourish here. True, nothing in this movie comes remotely close to reality, but you hardly care when you are having so much fun.

The movie would have been better had its third act been better structured. Once we realize what the new product is, we are inevitably disappointed. The product itself should have been kept as a classic McGuffian (the term Hitchcock used to describe something that was vitally important to the plot, that didn’t really matter. Essentially, it doesn’t matter what the product is, it just matters that everyone in the movie wanted it). The film regains a little bit of its magic in the final scene, which is expertly handled, but by then the movie has run out of a little steam. The movie is only 125 minutes long, but it feels longer. Still, it’s hard to complain too much about a movie that gives you as much fun as this one does. No, it’s not a modern classic like Michael Clayton. But it’s still better than most of the other movies out there right now.

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