Writer/Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson
Tony Gilroy is an interesting cat. For those who aren't familiar, I'll give you a brief history of his work. He wrote The Devil's Advocate, co-wrote Armageddon with J.J. Abrams, wrote all of the Bourne films, and wrote and directed Michael Clayton back in '07. I have a strange disconnect with Michael Clayton: I remember liking the movie when I saw it, but now (almost two years removed from my first viewing) I could probably only tell you three or four things about it that aren't featured in the trailer. I don't think the same thing will happen with Duplicity; it has shades of Michael Clayton, but it is much more fun and has a lot going for it in the way of style.
I'll say right now that I'm not the biggest Julia Roberts fan. I don't think she's done anything great since the 2001 Ocean's Eleven remake (that's including the sequel, since they threw in that stupid subplot about Tess Ocean looking like Julia Roberts). But she was surprisingly cool in this movie; her "America's Sweetheart" persona is shelved in favor of a mirror image of Clive Owen's character: calculating, efficient, wise, slick, and kind of a badass. In this movie, both actors play former spies who have moved into the private sector. Working together (or are they?), the two infiltrate rival corporations dealing with consumer products. A big deal is about to go down, so Claire (Roberts) and Ray (Owen) plan to sell company secrets to the highest bidder and walk away rich.
The film uses an excellent flashback structure to reveal the true nature of the characters. For most of the film, we aren't sure as to how real Ray and Claire's relationship is: are they playing each other, or are they really in love? Even the characters themselves don't truly know until near the end of the movie, which makes us more invested as an audience: we want to know what's going to happen to these two people. Ray and Claire have essentially the same conversation multiple times at different points throughout, but each time it takes on a different meaning. I know that probably makes no sense to you if you haven't seen it, but trust me - it's great writing and makes for some really cool moments in the movie.
Giamatti and Wilkinson are fantastic as the two opposing corporate forces. They get involved in what essentially is a slap fight during the opening credits, and the scene (shot in ultra slow motion) is one of my favorite credit sequences of last year. Sliminess and confidence are perfectly embodied in their respective characters, which makes the end reveal all the more entertaining. Wilkinson seems to be enjoying what appears to be the beginning of a "Scorsese/DiCaprio" relationship, this being the second film in a row on which he's worked with writer/director Gilroy. For all of our sakes, I hope this relationship continues - Wilkinson is, in my mind, the prototypical Gilroy-ian actor.
I mentioned earlier that traditionally I'm not terribly interested in corporate espionage. But Duplicity glosses it with so much style, importance, and behind-the-scenes scheming that it feels as if nuclear secrets are on the line instead of a consumer product. The film's ability to take what appears to be ridiculously asinine content and treat it with weight and consequence is a main catalyst for the humor in the movie as well. Make no mistake, this movie is not a comedy, but watching these characters go through these incredible measures for something so absurd is pretty funny. The best example I can give is the scene in which Ray tells Claire about the frozen pizza market, getting excited because ham and pineapple have never been combined and sold in grocery stores before. (Again, I realize that probably doesn't sound very funny. But in the context of the movie, it's pretty amusing.)
I wouldn't dare give away the ending, since it may be my favorite aspect of this film. I can't even tell you if it's a standard ending or not, since that in and of itself would be a semi-spoiler, but I'll recommend that everyone who gives this movie a shot stick it out until the end.
Duplicity was way better than I thought it'd be, and most of that is due to the chemistry between Clive Owen (doing some great work here) and Julia Roberts. Tony Gilroy's smart script and impressive direction keep us invested throughout, and the control with which the story is told makes me excited for Gilroy's next writing/directing combo. Until next time...