Film Review: Don’t Think Too Hard About Duplicity, Just Watch It

April 8, 2009

You don’t need to fully understand Duplicity to enjoy it. The film piles enough layers of potentially deceptive behavior atop one another you’d be forgiven if you can’t keep up with stars Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, who play an ex-MI-6 and CIA agent, respectively. Baked into those layers, though, is a mix of intelligent humor, cinematography and suspense that keep it fresh and tasty from the first bite to the last one 125 minutes later.


One of Duplicity’s first scenes proves this point. Two parked private jets face each other on a runway. It’s raining. A bunch of guys in suits exchange looks, ostensibly thinking Really Important Things, though all we hear is dramatic music that’s perfectly suited to the situation. Before we know what the hell is going on, one man runs to the other – in slow-motion – and starts beating him up. Accompanied by that catchy music, the resulting fight scene convinces us to smile and, more significantly, makes us want to learn more about why these men are so angry with each other.

Even if you don’t care about these guys, Ray Koval (Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Roberts) provide plenty of laughs to keep things going. The two actors have great chemistry and play, as well as could be expected, former secret service agents trying to screw a large company called Burkett-Randale out of millions of dollars through a complicated scheme while screwing each other and trying to make sure one isn’t screwing the other.

Clive OWEN (acteur)

The couple’s trust issues stem from the aftermath of a sexual encounter the duo had in Dubai six years ago. Koval was working for MI-6 and Stenwick for the CIA, but the Brit didn’t realize his romantic partner was associated with the U.S. government until she stole important documents from him while he lay naked and asleep in bed.

They meet again in Rome and, after sharing an incredible hotel room, have a serious discussion about their future goals. While pledging to stay together as a couple and a team, they decide they will do whatever it takes to make, earn, steal or connive their way to $40 million so they can live out the rest of their days in Italy. Despite the need for Koval and Stenwick to always maintain their guards, the two are genuinely in love.

“I know who you are and I love you anyway,” Koval says to Stenwick at one point.

There’s no question with Duplicity that Julia Roberts fans will be more entertained than more ambivalent moviegoers. Her charm carries the film in sections that, with an unsympathetic actress, might simply be confusing, similar to when one tunes into an episode midway through a season of a TV show like Alias or Lost.


Humorous dialogue also colors the film and helps maintain our interest through the suspense scenes. When Stenwick and the secret team helping her infiltrate her company begin to analyze a letter written by hand from a company CEO, one member of the team comments, “Who the hell writes with a fountain pen anymore? How thick and pretentious is that?”

That letter, by the way, concerns a soon-to-be-unveiled product that will turn the health and beauty industry on its head and likely grow the company’s fortunes tremendously.

Stenwick and her team aren’t the only ones in Duplicity trying to pull off some slick moves. Director Tony Gilroy separates certain scenes, or chapters, with a freeze frame that shrinks into a black screen or with four set-up shots placed on the screen simultaneously. It’s especially this latter technique that works so well, allowing the audience to understand the atmosphere in their own way rather than feeding us one set-up shot after another.

In the end, Stenwick and Koval are confronted with one final obstacle in their meticulously organized plan to steal the formula for the Amazing New Product. That product has the potential to improve many lives but, ultimately, the only people we care about are Koval and Stenwick. It’s their journey to the final scene that makes Duplicity so enjoyable and, unlike the intricacies of the film’s plot, that’s easy to understand.


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