Clive Owen as Ray Koval and Julia Roberts as Claire Stenwick, opposing corporate spies in and out of love and deception, in Tony Gilroy's film "Duplicity", which opened wide today in the U.S. and Canada.  (Photo: Univeral Pictures)


Trust, But Verify: A Charade Across Oceans For Roberts And Owen
By Omar P.L. Moore/    SHARE
Friday, March 20, 2009

After his Oscar-winning directorial debut feature film "Michael Clayton", Tony Gilroy writes and directs "Duplicity", a high-gloss caper film featuring two American corporations whose mutual disdain is exceeded only by the enmity fans of the sports teams Manchester United and Liverpool or the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have for each other.  "Duplicity" features a great operatic scene during the opening credits featuring "Michael Clayton" star Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, but the film is about the evolving romance between undercover spies in the opposing corporations who try to outfox and one-up the corporations they work for -- as well as each other. 

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play the undercover lovers and have lots of fun doing so, although it takes Ms. Roberts, in her first leading role since giving birth, a little while to get off the ground.  This may be due in part to the script, which likely called for her character to cautiously warm to getting to know a man she clearly doesn't trust because of the nature of her work.  Still, Ms. Roberts displays her usual charm and appeal, having a number of funny moments.  Mr. Owen, who five weeks ago starred in "The International", is impeccable, occasionally delivering his lines in the style of Cary Grant in "His Girl Friday" (1940) -- often rapid-fire and without a breath -- but most always with cool deliberation.  Ms. Roberts and Mr. Owen, who played adulterous lovers in Mike Nichols' "Closer" (2004), make a playful pair in "Duplicity".  Several scenes reveal a chemistry that gradually grows, adding to their appeal as a screen couple, and their banter is a highlight of "Duplicity", which opened today in theaters across the U.S. and Canada.

"Duplicity" is armed with tricks and makes the mistake of hurtling back and forth through time, ala the brilliant FX cable television series "Damages", although Mr. Gilroy's beautiful-looking film (cinematography by "There Will Be Blood" Oscar-winner Robert Elswit) with its occasional visual tonal changes, tries to establish the frequent temporal shifts as a main theme mining the jigsaw puzzle (or Rubick's Cube) that is the relationship between Claire Stenwick (Ms. Roberts) and Ray Koval (Mr. Owen), who find themselves meeting in "Groundhog Day"-type flashbacks in New York, Rome, Zurich, San Diego, the Bahamas, London and Miami, among other locales around the globe. 

The film boasts a solid supporting cast including Ulrich Thomsen (the excellent Thomas Vinterberg film "The Celebration" (Festen), "The International", "Hitman" and Susanne Bier's "Brothers".)  Mr. Giamatti, who played opposite Mr. Owen in "Shoot 'Em Up" in 2007, is good here as corporate CEO Richard Garsik, bringing nervy enthusiasm to a role that he obviously modeled after Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer, though the actor's character is far more restrained.  Mr. Wilkinson is even more buttoned-down as arch-rival CEO Howard Tully.  Denis O'Hare is particularly good as Duke, an undercover mastermind for Mr. Garsik.  It's worth noting that on one or two occasions in "Duplicity" scenes with supporting cast members are more entertaining than the interplay between the film's two principal stars. 

In Mr. Gilroy's budding feature film directing career corporate malfeasance is a focus but "Duplicity", a romantic comedy, is about trust and verification.  It's analogous to you going on Google to get information about your prospective lover or employee.  There's an "Ocean's Thirteen"-type feel and slickness to "Duplicity" -- sharp clothes, eyewear, opulence and sumptuous settings.  In fact, Steven Soderbergh, who exec-produced "Michael Clayton", had kicked around an idea to do a film like this and handed the baton to Mr. Gilroy, who had conversations with Mr. Soderbergh about making a spy film with a love story angle.  There's also a "Charade"-like feel to parts of "Duplicity" and while Ms. Roberts and Mr. Owen are hardly trying to match Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant they are living it up, as is composer James Newton Howard, whose catchy music score is light, jaunty and engaging, accurately capturing mood and feeling. 

"Duplicity", a cheeky, sophisticated film, isn't always predictable -- even in its repetitious episodes -- but always exhibits energy, wit and a deft sleight of hand.

With: Kathleen Chalfant, Thomas McCarthy, Rick Worthy, Oleg Shtefanko and Wayne Duvall.

"Duplicity" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language and some sexual content.  The film's duration is two hours and five minutes.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2009.  All Rights Reserved.

Related: Watch The "Duplicity" You Tube Review

Related: "Duplicity" clips - Julia Roberts and Clive Owen | Julia, Clive and Paul Giamatti

Related: "Duplicity" trailer

Related: Feature story on Tony Gilroy, director of "Michael Clayton" (October 2007)



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