Friday, June 12, 2009
Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Denis O'Hare
Thomas McCarthy, Carrie Preston
After the endless labyrinthine mind games of "Michael Clayton", anyone would've guessed writer/director Tony Gilroy was in for something a bit lighter. On the surface "Duplicity" seems to be just that, but look closer and you will find an even more twisted, character driven film that's absolutely relentless with the audience and even harder on itself.
It opens in Dubai where MI6 agent Ray Koval (Owen) seduces Claire Stenwick (Roberts) at a party. He ignores that she is CIA and wakes up eighteen hours later with a headache and some classified documents gone.
Upong finding her years later he melancholically reveals "the last thing I remember before passing out was thinking how much I liked you.".
Apparently she sorta feels the same and they reluctantly begin an affair (their trust issues rival the ones the actors shared in "Closer") . Flash forward a couple more years later, they both have quit their national agencies and have started working in corporate espionage.
They infiltrate rival cosmetic companies fighting for the release of a mysterious, revolutionary product, with the plan of getting the formula for themselves, selling it to the highest bidder and retire to a life of luxury.
With this basic premise Gilroy unfolds a complex, sometimes slightly confusing, game between the companies and the leads.
He exploits every single character and actor to the max, giving them some amazing dialogue and providing even the most conniving of them with a distinctive kind of swagger. Giamatti, all introverted cockiness and Wilkinson, pure evil corporate Zen, are perfect as the company tycoons who despise each other; and in one scene Carrie Preston almost steals the film from Julia herself as a horny travel agent.
But the best is obviously saved for Julia and Clive, who have undeniable sexual chemistry and bring to the screen an overwhelming sexiness tied with mistrust that makes the film worth the ticket.
Owen is all James Bond (with a bit of Clooney) as he follows this woman around in order to have her for himself, while dealing with the fact that he can't forget what he did to him.
Roberts, whose mere presence nowadays is enough of an event, does her character a la "Julia": all playfulness and awkward sensuality, but this time let's slip a lil' something extra (gasps! a flash of boob!) along with a more mature approach to acting.
In a wonderful scene as Claire rehearses a meeting with Ray, she teasingly asks "so you're directing me now?", in one of those postmodernist moments her image has become part of, we don't know if she's giving her character a nuance, or actually stating that she is Julia Roberts.
The same goes for the film which is so full of twists and turns that we don't really know what exactly is it trying to say.
Can it be about the troubles of consumerism? The danger/wonder of corporate evolution? Truth is that what Gilroy does best, besides messing up with your head, is conceal an ultimate truth in something that appears to be everything but. As with "Michael Clayton", which was arguably about the search for one's self in the midst of mid-life crisis, "Duplicity" is about the complicated nature of romantic relationships and what they're built upon.
Claire and Ray are essentially figuring out what they are in the midst of corporate wars, even the way the rival companies exaggerate their strategies is a metaphor of how couples tend to over dramatize everything, especially when it comes to trust.
Throughout the film it is suggested that Claire and Ray end up in these games because perhaps subcosnciously they want their relationship to fail and stick to what they know how to do best: their jobs.
Gilroy's Hitchcockian ability to layer a specific concept with genre conventions makes "Duplicity" the equivalent of a Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant romantic comedy as if done by J.J. Abrams.
Unfortunately Gilroy screws the MacGuffin and by revealing something that remains fascinating only when unsaid, goes way over his head, as if trying to find the essence of what makes love what it is. He forgets that half the thrills are within the search.