Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson
Duplicity is the kind of movie that doesn’t seem to get made very often anymore. A film geared towards adults, more concerned with being intelligent than universally accessible, though it doesn’t forget to be entertaining. This spy vs. spy story starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, both working at the top of their considerable charm, succeeds on a variety of levels, though it does end up becoming slightly weighed down by its own labyrinthine plot.
The players are Claire (Roberts) and Ray (Owen), two former government agents (she with the CIA, he with MI6) now working in the private sector. They work for rival corporations run by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), who open the film by getting into a knockdown, drag out fight on an airport tarmac. Garsik’s company is 10 days away from a shareholders meeting and is desperate to find out what new product Tully has been developing, just as Tully is desperate to keep the product under wraps.
The plot of the film is appropriately convoluted, involving double-crosses, triple-crosses and possibly quadruple-crosses – it’s hard to keep track. Claire and Ray are playing such a thorough game that even though they’re on the same side, they can never actually be too certain of that fact. Five years before the actual plot they meet in Dubai at a party at the US embassy. They go back to his hotel room, sleep together, and then she drugs him and steals the documents he was supposed to protect. He’s understandably upset about this but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with her again when they run into each other in Rome three years later. She suggests to him that they give up their government work and take a chance on making some real money in the corporate world. He agrees, though neither ever seems fully convinced that they’re actually working together.
The story is made up of two timelines. The first is the present day, corporate espionage plot, the second is Claire and Ray’s back story which reveals how they ended up in partnership together and how they settled on what they hope will be their big score. The flashbacks are amusing at first but eventually become tiresome, particularly in the way that they shape our view of Claire and Ray’s relationship. She’s always testing him and he never really does anything to deserve it. The fact that he sticks around is evidence that he has the patience of a saint. That being said, Roberts and Owen have great chemistry and seem like they're having a really good time with these characters and the material.
The film was written and directed by Tony Gilroy, whose previous work (writing and directing Michael Clayton and co-writing the Bourne series and State of Play, just to name a few) wouldn't have suggested such a light hearted affair as this. For the most part he keeps the story moving along at high energy, although it does start to limp a little as it nears the end. It is also occassionally a little too impressed with its own cleverness and the story itself would probably be more engaging if it were slightly less convoluted. However, in the end, this is a perfectly decent movie and well worth a look.