Ray Koval: If you told me or if I believed you?
Can you think of anything more satisfying than pulling a fast one on someone? It’s even more delicious when that particular someone is someone you care about or who has gotten you more times than you would like to remember. The look on their faces when they realize they’ve been had is worth every painstaking effort you had to make to pull it off. You would think then that “Duplicity”, a film in which two very likable and sneaky folks, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, who have proven chemistry together from working previously in Mike Nichols’ “Closer”, would be sticking it to each other so bad that you would delight in every jab they made at each other. Well, the ultimate joke would be on you then because, while writer/director Tony Gilroy positions “Duplicity” as a feisty heist movie by stepping up the cool factor any way he can, it is actually nothing more than a failed prank fallen flat on its pretty Hollywood face.
When we first meet Claire Stenwick and Ray Koval (Roberts and Owen), they are drinking it up in Dubai at the US consulate. She isn’t the least bit interested in him and he is working her as hard as he can. I didn’t hear it but he must have said the right thing at some point because they end up in bed together. Of course, she was only sleeping with him so that she could drug him and steal some super secret international spy stuff. And naturally, he put aside all of his super secret spy training and allowed himself to be taken in by her beauty. It is fleeting though – the moment, not her beauty – and with very little chemistry or connection. Yet this is supposed to be the instance that binds the two in a lust that spans years and leads to what we’re told is true love. They reconnect years later in some other exotic shooting location and concoct a plan to dupe two high profile rival corporations (run by overacting Paul Giamatti and understated Tom Wilkinson) and make off with millions of dollars that will allow them to bask in exorbitantly rich bliss for the rest of their lives. It’s a fine plan but I wasn’t buying anything.
Gilroy’s last directorial effort was his first. “Michael Clayton” earned him respect from critics and contemporaries alike as the film went on to earn a number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Gilroy himself. Gilroy enlisted some of the same players he worked with last time out, including composer James Newton Howard, cinematographer Robert Elswit and even Wilkinson rejoins the gang. How is it then that when all these folks got together last time, they achieved such subtle perfection while this time, Howard sounds as though he were ripping off the “Ocean’s 11” through 13 scores and Elswit is practically washed out? (Wilkinson is still great as he can do very little wrong in my book.) Perhaps the blame can be placed on Gilroy’s most tired screenplay in years. By keeping corporate espionage grounded in reality last time out, he made it fascinating and relatable. By infusing it with Hollywood convention, the whole game was played out before it even began.
“Duplicity” boils down to very little more than two pretty people running games on each other and anyone else they can. The trouble is that the games they’re running are amusing only to them and entirely transparent to the rest of us. The truly duplicitous nature of “Duplicity” it would seem is just that everyone on that side of the screen thinks they are so much funnier, so much sneakier and so much more dubious than what we on this side of the screen actually see. Once again, the cool kids are too ignorant to notice that they are nowhere near as cool as they think they are.
Review by Joseph Bélanger