Reviewed by Mike Goodridge
Dir: Tony Gilroy. US. 2009. 122 mins.
A high-tech romantic thriller set in the little-seen world of corporate espionage, Tony Gilroy's second feature is sophisticated adult entertainment which puts the lazy Ocean's films to shame with its clever writing, lively direction and visual panache. An old-fashioned caper with a refreshingly keen desire to entertain, Duplicity should be a healthy spring hit for Universal and confirm Gilroy as an A-list director of range and stature.
Gilroy's smartest move was reteaming Closer's Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, whose whipsmart back-and-forth repartee and sexy chemistry bring to mind caper couplings of old such as Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine in Gambit, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair or even Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief.
Very much a film for grown-ups whose intricate, playfully confusing storyline might prove too baffling for the impatient, Duplicity should nevertheless perform along the lines of other star-driven heist pictures like MGM's Thomas Crown Affair remake (1999; $124m worldwide), Entrapment (1999; $212m), or The Italian Job (2003; $176m). Roberts' box office prowess - although untested since Charlie Wilson's War (2007; $119m) - should compensate for any shortfall in Owen's pulling power as a result of last month's flop The International.
For those expecting Michael Clayton 2, Duplicity will be a disappointment. Although both films are set in corporate New York City, they couldn't be more different in tone, and Duplicity seems to have less interest in painting a scathing portrait of corrupt corporate culture than having fun at its expense.
The conceit here is that a CIA operative and a MI6 agent fall in love, go into the private sector and attempt to pull off a magnificent heist.
Clare Stenwick (Roberts) first meets Ray Koval (Owen) in Dubai, seduces him, drugs him and steals some secret documents from him. Once tension from that initial meeting has been diffused, the two start an affair, plot to leave government intelligence behind and position themselves at the heart of a war raging between two cosmetics giants run by feuding CEOs Howard Tully (Wilkinson) and Dick Garsick (Giamatti).
Stenwick gets a job working in Tully's intelligence department, while secretly reporting back to Garsick. Pretending he doesn't know her, Owen secures the job as her handler in the Garsick camp. Their mission is to get their hands on a new formula for a hair-restoring shampoo being secretly developed by Tully and sell it for a fortune to a rival company.
The challenge for the audience here is to work out who is bluffing who, and who is actually in control. But if the plot machinations are ultimately as deceitful as the characters, there is as much entertainment value in seeing Owen and Roberts decide whether they can trust - and indeed love - each other. The actors rise to the occasion. Roberts is no stranger to flirtatious romantic comedy, but Owen is unusually charming here, successfully playing against the humourless, rugged type in which he has been traditionally cast.
As if Gilroy thought the urban New York City locations weren't glamorous enough, he throws in some sun-dappled interludes in Rome and Nassau which befit the global intrigue of the story.
Lisa Roberts Gillan