Roberts and Owen crackle in Duplicity
Tony Gilroy penetrated the world of corporate corruption with smarts, suspense and searing insight in his 2007 directing debut, Michael Clayton.He revisits that territory with Duplicity, only he does it with plenty of sexual tension to go along with his usual crackling dialogue and complex plotting. The storytelling here is more dense, but the tone has a sly, sexy playfulness about it that significantly lightens things up.Julia Roberts and Clive Owen may not immediately seem like the likeliest screen pair for a romantic comedy, especially following the devastating moments they shared in Closer. But here they enjoy a delightful chemistry as former spies and on-again, off-again lovers who scheme to steal tens of millions of dollars from the dueling corporate behemoths that employ them. Roberts looks great in her return to leading-lady status after a few years off strong, curvy, formidable and Owen drops the steamy glower hes adopted of late and almost seems to have a twinkle in his eye this time around.Writer-director Gilroy jumps all over in time and location with these two the globe-trotting and high-tech tactics reminiscent of the Bourne movies he scripted as he follows the constantly evolving relationship between Roberts ex-CIA officer Claire Stenwick and Owens former MI6 agent Ray Koval.Theyve figured out a way to rob the rival pharmaceutical companies for whom they serve as undercover operatives in Manhattan; apparently, paranoia is rampant among the people who are supposed to make you feel better about yourself through conditioner and toothpaste. Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, as the egomaniac titans of industry on either side of this Park Avenue war, bring substance to what could have been a couple of cartoony roles, and the healthy balance of A-list stars and veteran character actors is part of what makes Duplicity so appealing.But because Claire and Ray are so paranoid themselves, as their careers have required them to be, they never know whether they can trust each other, something Gilroy shows us in flashbacks over the past five years in locales including Dubai, Rome and Miami. (Robert Elswit, an Oscar winner for There Will Be Blood, provides the gorgeously glossy cinematography.)When they first meet at a U.S. Embassy party, he seduces her, she slips something in his drink, then ransacks his hotel room and takes off with secret information. Ray has been figuring out ever since then how to confront Claire should their paths cross again which they do, repeatedly and the way his tone changes each time he delivers his schpiel is one of many clever running gags.The threat of a double-cross keeps them both on their toes and infuses their affair with a buzzing and frequently hilarious tension. Thats precisely why it seems so needless when Gilroy eventually gives in and spells things out for us. The guessing game was too addictive for them and for us and it didnt have to end.Until then, though, the myriad twists and turns will probably make your head spin if you can follow them all, that is and you wont see the last one coming. But if you do, hey, bravo to you for being so crafty yourself.
Duplicity, a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. Running time: 118 minutes. Three stars out of four.
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