, 125 min, 2009
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writer: Tony Gilroy
Stars: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson
I don’t know how realistic this film is. Two corporate spies, one having worked for the CIA, the other being former MI-6, play games against one another and their employers to discover a top-secret formula for some revolutionary new product vied for by two rival companies. What I do know is how entertaining it is – and how complicated.
Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity is a labyrinthine romantic spy-comedy/thriller in which we’re not always positive what is going on, or why, or who is doing what, with what, or to whom, but it all (more or less) comes out in the wash. Clive Owen is Ray Koval, a British spy who, some years back, was screwed (literally) out of some secret documents by Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), a sexy CIA agent who he met in Dubai. Now, Ray works for Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), a tiny, beady-eyed little CEO toiling away in the lucrative world of shampoo corporations. His rival is Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson, who gave an Oscar-nominated – and deserving – performance in Gilroy’s Michael Clayton in 2007), Claire’s current employer, who has a secret recipe/formula for some kind of revolutionary product for which Garsik and his cohorts vie.
The plot will include desperate, time-sensitive schemes involving the copying of documents, agents tailing and ditching one another in public, and Claire and Ray’s current hopes of stealing the formula for themselves, selling it for millions in Switzerland, and living happily ever after (though not necessarily together). Ray and Claire’s romantic and spy history is illustrated by a series of sporadically intercut flashbacks to various meetings in luxurious international locales like France, New York, London, Italy (and Cleveland).
The film was written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote the Bourne film series and previously made Michael Clayton (2007) with George Clooney, which earned several Oscar nominations. Okay, so his latest isn’t likely to go down the same road. For Roberts and Owen, this is a reunion after Mike Nichols’ Closer (2004), that foul-mouthed and viciously venomous “date movie” – the kind that makes you wanna go home alone. This is much lighter fare (infinitely so, in fact) and is also a bit too confusing. The British might call it “too clever by half.” Indeed.
The film’s best scene is actually one of its most subtle. Ray has seduced a company travel agent (Carrie Preston fromTrue Blood) in order to steal some information from her, and been caught. Claire, in her capacity as security for the company, “interrogates” Preston simply by standing there, listening to her babble on and on about how sorry she is to have failed at her job for the sake of a roll in the hay (hence, the tears), and yet how happy she is to have had such a great roll in the hay (also, tears). It is quite a memorable scene, funny and touching on the part of Preston, fascinating because Roberts just watches and listens, arms crossed, saying absolutely nothing, subtly manifesting the shift between anger and scorn to hurt and genuine emotional upheaval, all without seeming to register a single clear-cut emotion on her face.
So, ultimately, what we have here is an entertaining game full of chemistry between two reunited stars where, if we aren’t always sure what’s going on, it’s somewhat of a relief to realize that, in the end, neither do they.