Duplicity starts off promising with crisp, tricky photography, split-screen images and inventive camera angles. The two main characters, Ray (Clive Owen) and Claire (Julia Roberts), come from different secret agent backgrounds and the story unfolds as their romance and inherent distrust of each other progresses. Forming an alliance of sorts, they use their spy talents to go after two huge multinational conglomerates, pitting CEOs Howard Tully and Richard Garsik (Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, respectively) against each other to embezzle the bejeezus out of them. Ray and Claire plan on cashing in on the divulgence of a new secret product about to bust open on the market. But of course, nothing is as it seems. While gearing up to pay close attention, I found that it wasn't necessary...everything is spelled out for you, albeit disjointedly, then taken away and re-explained.
The movie is laden with plot twists and jumps back and forth between time and locales ("Rome... 2 years ago," etc). You are handed clue after clue and invited to play along. But where this movie really pays off is in its performances. Everyone gets to shine in this dialogue-driven, mad-cap-antics romp. Owen and Roberts are a good match, teaming up again to verbally duke it out (they sparred in Mike Nichol's Closer in 2000). Claire (at times sporting Erin Brokovich amounts of cleavage) shows her dominating intellect and sensitive playfulness while cautiously toying with Ray's emotions. Owen does a fantastic job as the smarmy yet vulnerable agent, always seeming one step behind the game. Wilkinson's Tully is a silent force to be reckoned with, looking so pasty that his face seems made out of crescent rolls. But Giamatti (Sideways) is once again the scene stealer. His over-the-top take on the paranoid, raving, egomaniac soars. There's also an entire range of top-notch supporting performances, the standouts being Carrie Preston (Doubt) as an innocent victim and Denis O'Hare (Milk) as a sub-par intelligence agent.
The most fun in this movie is found in watching how all the characters don't believe each other. Ray and Clair relish in their gleeful distrust. They have more fun at their own games in their blossoming love-fest than the overall con. It's refreshing to see a cat-and-mouse game played out with wits and not bullets. There is virtually no violence in this flick, although there is one hilarious slow-motion fight scene between the two CEOs that had me almost rolling on the floor
Duplicity lives up to the definition of its name: "speaking or acting in two different ways concerning the same matter with intent to deceive; double-dealing." Maybe its intention was to make your brain work overtime figuring out the clues, but at the core of this flick is a simple love story based on trust.
Writer/director Gilroy exhibits extensive chops here, but I feel like he was just a tad too overconfident. Combining decent rapport between characters with the whodunit stuff to serve as a premise for a movie is a good idea. But even with all of the pizzazz, ingenious intentions and twists and turns, it's just not that hard to follow. I like the idea of how this ends, but not how it gets there. As entertaining as this movie is, even given its engaging and witty dialogue, there is an empty space in this movie just dying to be filled.
Starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti. Written and Directed by Tony Gilroy.