Saturday, August 29, 2009

Movie Review: "Duplicity"

Starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti
Directed by Tony Gilroy

Official Web site

Caper movies can be, by turns, thrilling, funny, intense or just plain stupid. You can certainly leave that last adjective out of describing “Duplicity,” as the film keeps the brain working throughout. A bit too much, some might argue, which could be seen as a problem.

Director Tony Gilroy also wrote the screenplay, which includes so many crosses and double-crosses, you’ll lose count. Still, there’s an air of fun to the proceedings, featuring a game cast, led by the palpable chemistry between stars Clive Owen and Julia Roberts.

Having teamed up previously on Mike Nichols’ drama, “Closer,” it’s good to see Owen (who’s rarely seen in lighter fare like this) and Roberts (who’s been rarely seen on screen at all in recent years) back together.

Owen plays Ray Koval, an ex-MI6 agent, who runs into Claire Stenwick (Roberts) while on a job. While he instantly recognizes her, she feigns having ever met him. It’s for a good reason, as she seduced him while on an assignment for the CIA years ago, stealing some secret documents he was in possession of in the process.

She eventually admits to their less than picture perfect history, but Ray finds himself still drawn to her. The feeling is likewise, or is it? When you get two spies together who are deceitful for a living, can they ever really trust anyone?

That question is a central conflict in Ray and Claire’s relationship, as they decide to team up to steal a top secret formula that has been developed by the company for whom Claire works. Her boss, Howard Tully, (Tom Wilkinson, who also co-starred in Gilroy’s sensational “Michael Clayton”) has an intense and highly competitive ongoing feud with Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti). Richard, who is Ray’s boss, is paranoid that his rival is on to a hot new product and is desperate to steal the formula and reveal it at an upcoming stockholders meeting.

Neither of the bosses are aware of the history between their two employees, which allows Ray and Claire to each be privy of knowledge that could help the other side – and each other.

Although they get significantly less screen time than the two leads, Wilkinson and Giamatti both stand out in their supporting performances – something they’ve been doing quite well for much of their career. Both their characters are successful, powerful and undoubtedly wealthy, yet can’t help but obsess about the other. The opening scene of the film featuring the two men squaring off on an airport tarmac demonstrates their emotional maturity towards one another.

The screenplay is a bit too labyrinthine for its own good, which drains some of the film’s enjoyment. But if you can allow your mind to not overanalyze every plot twist (of which there are many), going along with this con game will seem like a no-brainer.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.)

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