Universal // 2009 // 125 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 24th, 2009
Outwit. Outspy. Outsmart. Outplay. Then get out.
"I think about you all the time. I think about you even when you're with me. I look at you, I can't stop looking at you. I look at you, and I think, 'That woman...That woman knows who I am and loves me anyway.'"
Ray Koval (Clive Owen, Shoot 'Em Up) is a very talented MI6 agent. Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts, Sleeping with the Enemy) is a very talented CIA agent. By chance, they happen to meet in Dubai. A bit of flirtation is followed by a passionate sexual encounter, after which Ray is drugged by Claire and left unconscious for 18 hours. Years later, Ray and Claire encounter each other once again. They're no longer working for their respective governments. They're both in New York, and they're both doing intelligence work for major corporations. Claire works for a company run by a man named Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), who wisely observes that in the modern world, it is not enough to merely have a good product to offer your customer. You've got to be constantly on the lookout, ready to steal someone else's idea and/or protect your own. Ray works for a company run by a man named Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man), who panics when he discovers that Tully is about to unleash something huge. He has no idea what on earth this new thing could be, but he knows it's big. How does he know? Claire told him. She's actually working for Garsik's company, and has infiltrated the ranks of Tully's company as a spy.
However, things take a sudden turn for the wild side when Ray meets up with Claire again. Initially, he's very angry. He is very bitter about the way she abused him and betrayed him, but he still has feelings for her. Despite the severity of her past actions, Claire also has feelings for Ray. After a passionate, three-day-long make-up session in Italy, the two concoct a plan. They're going to work together to steal Tully's big secret, sell it to a company in Switzerland, pocket the money, and live happily ever after in Rome for the rest of their days. It's not going to be easy. Not only do both Claire and Ray have to navigate their way around their crafty and intelligent co-workers, they each have to figure out whether the other person is on the level. Ray distrusts Claire, Claire distrusts Ray. They make progress, they sweat, and they try to put together back-up plans without alerting the other side. Meanwhile, high-level people at both companies may or may not be close to uncovering their scheme. Who will be holding the great big pile of money when the dust settles?
It's a good time to be Tony Gilroy, as the talented man has quickly gone from "pretty good screenwriter who is best-known for writing the Jason Bourne movies" to "very talented writer/director who knows how to craft a smart and entertaining flick." Gilroy received a great deal of critical acclaim for his sharply-crafted drama Michael Clayton, and now he has matched that achievement with another winner: Duplicity.
In some ways, it may seem like Gilroy is traveling through overfamiliar territory here. How many times have we seen a film variation on "Spy vs. Spy," with secret agents and/or thieves double-crossing each other at every turn? Duplicity may look like a reheated Ocean's 11, but this spy flick is so fiendishly intelligent and well-crafted that it simply doesn't matter. The film may well come on the heels of many similar heist flicks, but it's considerably better than most of them. The dialogue has all the fun snap and cool humor of the Ocean films, but plot is more substantial and credible. Once upon a time, people might have viewed the corporate orgy of deception and chaos depicted in Duplicity to be nothing short of preposterous, but in the era of Ponzi schemes, corporate bailouts, desperate financial institutions and a volatile stock market, a film like this feels frighteningly real. It shouldn't. In an ideal world, Duplicity would feel like a ridiculous and over-elaborated affair. In reality, it feels simplistic when contrasted with the schemes of Bernie Madoff.
Though it was designed as a slice of breezy entertainment, Duplicity feels far more realistic and convincing than Owen's previous thriller, The International, a film that tried ten times as hard as this one to be taken seriously. This one is a lot more honest and a lot more fun, and nowhere can the contrast be seen more clearly than in the two Owen performances. In this film, he sheds the world-weary cynicism and creates a playful character that is partially motivated by romantic feelings and partially motivated by greed. The only thing we have to figure out is which motivation will win out in the end. If he was doing a version of Daniel Craig's 007 in The International, then this time he's doing a version of Sean Connery. It's a charismatic turn that serves as a sharp reminder of just how good a leading man Owen can be when he's on his game.
He is ably supported by Julia Roberts, who does some solid work. I've never been much of a fan of Roberts as an actress, as I've always found her range to be rather limited. Thankfully, her "poker-face" acting serves the film well, and Roberts does a nice job of moderating her performance. She offers bits and pieces of truth along with the endless lies throughout the film. We know that at least some of what she says is genuine; it's just a little difficult to figure out what. Roberts and Owen work together very well, rekindling a bit of that tense brutality that defined their relationship in Closer at times. The film can be accurately described as "entertaining," and I left with a smile on my face. Even so, there are a few remarkably uncomfortable moments that are handled with precision and honesty.
Gilroy's biggest strength may be his razor-sharp dialogue, but his direction is quite strong throughout. Perhaps his best sequence is a frantic and tense scene involving a document and a copying machine, which uses a very fine blend of direction, editing, and acting to create a memorable cinematic moment. The cinematography of the great Robert Elswit makes the film look very good at every turn. The supporting cast is uniformly solid, particularly Giamatti and Wilkinson (both very convincing as different-yet-similar CEOs).
Duplicity looks pretty solid in hi-def, if falling just a tad short of standard-setting. This is a film with an exceptionally vibrant color palette, offering lots of bright visuals and exotic locales. Blacks are very deep throughout and the level of background detail is quite impressive, though facial detail is merely average. A few shots look just a wee bit too soft, but overall this is a stellar transfer that should satisfy all but the most nitpicky videophile. I don't have any complaints whatsoever with the audio, which is dominated by a charmingly vigorous James Newton Howard score (ten steps up from his absurdly dull yet somehow Oscar-nominated work on Michael Clayton). Dialogue is clean, the action sequences are energetic and immersive, and everything blends together nicely.
The only supplement of note is a commentary with Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy. It's a good listen, but I really wish we had more material here. You also get BD-Live and a MyScenes option, but who cares?
My only complaint is that the constant flash-backs and flash-forwards become somewhat needlessly convoluted after a while. I approve of the non-linear storytelling approach here, but Gilroy takes it just a bit far after a certain point.
Looking for something fun? Looking for something smart? Looking for something that will make you feel like you actually spent your hard-earned money on something worth seeing? Look no further than this disc. Duplicity is a very fine slice of Hollywood entertainment; the sort of high-quality mainstream thriller that audiences deserve to be given on a more consistent basis. The Blu-ray release looks and sounds sharp enough to warrant an easy recommendation.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13