Duplicity (2009)

Watchable

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on March 26, 2009 on tonymacklin.net.

Duplicity is a lazy movie about corporate espionage.

It's lazy because its director/writer Tony Gilroy relies on easy gimmicks and lame conventions to tell his tale. Gilroy uses techniques that might enliven home movies; they deaden a theatrical one.

Duplicity is the convoluted story of two former spies who get together to bilk a huge international corporation. Claire (Julia Roberts) is a former CIA agent, and Ray (Clive Owen) is a former MI-6 agent.

They were adversaries, but they decide to take advantage of the competition between two international corporations to infiltrate them and make off with multi-millions.

The two corporations are after a secret formula -- Alfred Hitchcock is spinning. That's no McGuffin; in Gilroy's hands, that's a MacMuffin. It's feeble for me to reference Hitchcock.

As they move forward on their plot, Ray and Claire constantly squabble with each other about trust and test the other's loyalty. The dialogue is one-note. Ok, you don't trust each other. Get on with it.

The two corporate heads (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson) are in a fierce struggle for supremacy, and they loathe each other.

The plot comes down to who will win between the corporate honchos and the former spies.

Actually we sort of root for the spies, but it's like rooting for the Detroit Lions. The pay-off is meager.

The cast is better than the writing or the direction, but it's limited by them. If Julia Roberts and Clive Owen had more chemistry together it would have helped. Their star power emits an occasional twinkle, but no sustained sparks.

The one actress who makes her part memorable is Carrie Preston, who portrays a travel agent, with one of the companies, who is seduced and manipulated by Ray. Her enthusiasm about her one-night stand is one of the few moments of believable liveliness in the entire movie.

Duplicity has no real villains, although Giamatti and Wilkinson pose, preen, and rant as the two honchos. Giamatti does infuse his obnoxious character with humanity, but he's more hammy than usual. The fight at the beginning between Giamatti and Wilkinson should have been rousing. It's a silent picture except for the music, but it's no Chaplin and Keaton.

Gilroy overpowers the scene with music The image of the two men wrestling, which should have been terrific, is rendered impotent by the soundtrack.

Gilroy relies way too much on the overwhelming music of John Newton Howard. and an orchestra -- the strung-out strings. They must be exhausted by the end of the movie. They never stop. It's like pouring syrup over waffles, until they float.

The music by Howard is down to his usual standard -- insistent and clamorous. Howard has eight Oscar nominations for his music, but he's never won. He won't win this time either.

Gilroy employs music to accompany his mediocre dialogue, but the music doesn't redeem it.

Gilroy has his movie jump around from locale to locale and time to time, but it's like time travel through home movies. There's Aunt Sadie walking in Rome.

The movie opens in Dubai, then five years later, Rome two years ago, Rome again, London 18 months ago, Miami 14 months ago, Zurich 12 hours later, 10 days earlier. It's peripatetic pretension.

Gilroy loves repetition. He seems to think redundancy is creativity. It's not. Gilroy's first direction was Michael Clayton (2007) -- the man loves flashbacks -- but it didn't bog down that movie as much as it does Duplicity.

Duplicity is edited by Gilroy's younger brother John, who also did Michael Clayton and Miracle (2004). The cinematography by Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood (2007) and Michael Clayton) is slick.

Gilroy's favorite shot -- at least the one he uses most often -- is from the bottom of a tall building to the top. It's a bland, tired establishing shot. Like leftover tv footage. He uses it again and again.

And there's always the ceaseless music.

The best caper/con game films have a sharpness of plot, character, and style. Despite their deviousness, they have clarity. Duplicity has no clarity -- it is cluttered. It's a convoluted hike, that tries to take shortcuts.

Although director/writer David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner (1997) had a lot going on, it evolved convincingly. Duplicity is hamstrung by stops and starts. Mamet may be no Hitchcock, but Tony Gilroy is no Mamet.

Duplicity is a movie basically about trust issues.

But the biggest trust issue is -- you can't trust the filmmaker.


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