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Movies Review

Duplicity

By
Duplicity
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenwriters: Tony Gilroy
Starring: (interview) Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Denis O'Hare
Running Time: 124 mins
Certificate: 12A

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen were lovers playing mind games in acclaimed British drama Closer, and there's a lot more of that in Duplicity. However this time there's a slick Hollywood twist as romance gets in the way of high-level corporate espionage. It means the games they play are a lot more intricate and the stakes much higher. And there's a touch of déjà vu for writer-director Tony Gilroy as well, following up his Oscar-nominated boardroom thriller Michael Clayton. Thankfully this is more fun; in fact it's perfect light relief for all that executive stress.

Owen does his best Cary Grant routine as erstwhile MI6 agent Ray Koval, all sharp tongue and pearly white teeth. But at the start it appears that CIA officer Claire Stenwick has the one-up. Not only is she winning the pearly whites war (she's played by the luminescent Julia Roberts after all!), but she also sets the honey trap which leaves Ray feeling cheap and used in the morning, not to mention robbed of a few highly-classified documents. Their paths cross years later when both have ditched government service in favour of the lucrative trade in corporate secrets.

Claire is working on the inside at a multinational corporation that promises to set the world on fire with a new bathroom product. Tom Wilkinson is the secretive CEO Howard Tully, a role not unlike the one he played in Michael Clayton; getting hot under his starched collar and acting in unpredictable ways. On this occasion though, there's also a childish whimsy played for laughs. He's introduced in a wonderfully slapstick opener; in the throes of a full-on brawl with his archenemy Richard Garsik (the always delightful Paul Giamatti) as the staff look on, appalled. With Claire in cahoots, Garsik aims to steal Tully's prize, but she gets dangerously rattled when Ray is brought in during the last stages to facilitate the coup.

Gilroy's plotting is as Machiavellian as the players. As he flashes back and forth through time, there is a danger of getting lost. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter. The real intrigue is in the faltering love affair between Claire and Ray as their duplicitous business dealings have them forever questioning each other's motives. In that way it's a little reminiscent of The Thomas Crown Affair. Owen and Roberts certainly have a chemistry to rival McQueen and Dunaway, and the bristling sexual politics and pattering dialogue also bring to mind the old screwball comedies synonymous with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Even in the visual approach (more nods to Thomas Crown), it is seductively stylish and sophisticated.

As the big unveiling draws near, Gilroy could be accused of trying a little too hard and overplaying the angles. What's more troublesome is the manner in which the plot threatens to unravel on a few key details. Considering that two years of elaborate scheming leads up to this endgame, it doesn't ring true when success or failure is ultimately determined by a few blundering lapses of judgement. Again, it's the backroom hustle and tussle between Claire and Ray that really amps up the tension and keeps you guessing till the end; Can these two really live happily ever after? One thing's for sure, moviegoers who prefer genuinely witty romance to dime-a-dozen hare-brained rom-coms will stick with the story through the thick and thin parts. Indeed with so many hidden layers, Duplicity demands a second look.


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