April 3, 2009

Tony Gilroy's 'Duplicity' Disappoints

Print More

If the going rate for disappointment these days is $18.50, then snag a small popcorn, a small Coke and a ticket to the next showing of Duplicity. Centered on deception and romantic intrigue, Duplicity just tries to do too much. The trailers create a much more compelling plot than what this difficult-to-follow spy-thriller actually delivers. However, the unnecessarily complicated storyline does not take away from the undeniable chemistry between leading lovers Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.
In her first starring role since 2004’s Closer (also starring Owen), Roberts really captures the role of Claire Stenwick, the clever yet fabulous corporate operative. Pair that with the deliciously mysterious Ray Koval (Owen) and it seems as though there’s no way anyone who watches the movie with their eyes open couldn’t enjoy the film. But then you watch it.
Don’t get me wrong, scenes involving the sneaky love affair (which conveniently takes place in a number of lush locations) bring spurts of entertainment to an otherwise mind-boggling sea of corporate espionage, but it’s just not enough.
The two agents meet at a party in Dubai where Claire has her way with Ray before drugging him and stealing the secret files he has hidden in his hotel room. And so the twisted, deceitful relationship begins.
Following the opening scene and rather interesting opening credits, the first of many narrative switchbacks occurs, fast-forwarding the audience five years for the pair’s first rendezvous since Dubai, or so we think. They take part in this heated discussion regarding their past before it is exposed that they are actually in on the same duplicitous scheme. Claire is working undercover for industry titan Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), president of Burkett-Randle. Ray is the newest member of the behind-the-scenes team that Claire is working for, whose objective is to uncover Burkett-Randle’s newest lucrative product so CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) can reveal it first for his own company Omnikron.
Right about here is where the movie becomes not as clever as it wants to be and far more complicated than it needs to be. Writer-director Tony Gilroy (with his first film since the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton) spends the next hour or so flashing back and forth in an attempt to reveal the quirks of Ray and Claire’s relationship and just how the two became entangled in this intricate undercover operation together. Three years ago they met on the Gulf Coast, and 18 months earlier they met in Hawaii (two and a half days after the last time they ate together in that little corner café in Rome). These meetings had no effect on the rest of the story. The movie would have been slightly enjoyable without the extensive character development and the confusing flashbacks. Not that the sexy Claire / Ray reunions weren’t fun to watch — they’re just inessential to the story.
As for the casting, Gilroy was undoubtedly on the money. Wilkinson has that ever-powerful yet reserved superior on lock, and his counterpart Giamatti plays a flawless sleazebag. But the show ultimately belongs to Roberts and Owen, as the two once again nail the funny-and-sexy role they have both become quite comfortable in.
Unlike Gilroy’s Bourne scripts, Duplicity isn’t quite action-packed and fast-paced, but as the stakes rise for this devious pair, the mystery deepens. Each trying to stay one double-cross ahead, Claire and Ray are constantly faced with the question of whether or not to trust the one they love. In the end, the question of who’s gaming whom is answered with a “gotcha,” worthy of a tip of the hat.
Although it’s no Hitchcock, this suspenseful flick isn’t all terrible, as the chemistry between Roberts and Owen save it from being a total bust. However, if you find yourself in the mood for movie-theater popcorn and a good plot in the near future spare, yourself the two hours and five minutes and spend your $18.50 on another movie.