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Case Number 17098

Buy Duplicity at Amazon


Universal // 2009 // 125 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // August 25th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's motto is: "Make frozen pizza, not war."

Editor's Note

Our review of Duplicity (Blu-Ray), published August 24th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

"If you screw this up, I'll ruin your life."
"I thought you tried that already."

Opening Statement

Watching Duplicity was a pleasant surprise. Going in, I was expecting something more like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which used its spy story to send its comic tale of a marriage gone bad into surreal silliness. Instead, it's a thriller that concentrates on the twists and turns of its plot. While that's a lot of fun to watch, it's going to be hell to review without spoiling your fun. I'll try nonetheless…

Facts of the Case

Three weeks into a corporate espionage gig, Ray (Clive Owen, Sin City) spots Claire (Julia Roberts, Ocean's Eleven) as he's about to make contact with a mole sent into rival company Burkett and Randle. Since he's got some history with Claire, Ray stops everything to pursue her, only to be told she is the mole. Claire says she doesn't want to work with Ray, but he can be persuasive. How will their past affect efforts to uncover B&R's secret project?

The Evidence

The first half hour or so of Duplicity sets up the bickering rivalry between Ray and Claire, letting viewers think that's all they're going to see for the rest of its 125 minutes. However, a flashback changes everything, showing that what you've seen isn't what's going on—at least not all of it. From there, the twists pick up pace, and I was doubting what I was seeing the whole time. It's not that you won't guess the ending twist—the puzzle is laid out fairly, and it's not that complicated in the end—but that there's enough misdirection afoot that you'll disregard it and put it out of your mind. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are surprisingly good at keeping viewers on their toes throughout the story; you'll almost believe it as they keep meeting for the first time.

If you're looking for humor, Duplicity is light on romantic comedy banter but slips in a lot of pessimistic satire as suits talk about "corporate evolution" and one corporate chief reads a speech to his team while his rival reads it to his team in a secret bunker. Paul Giamatti (Lady in the Water) adds most of the comic relief as a conniving, angry corporate chief. While an action scene that revolves around a search for a photocopier is played straight and manages to build some tension, it is an absurd idea, isn't it? Duplicity creates an amoral world populated by characters who are interesting but not likable. Even when working together, Ray and Claire don't appear to trust each other much.

Duplicity has a slick thriller look, with a dark corporate espionage bunker filled with high-tech gadgetry, sleek and cold skyscrapers, and the ubiquitous split-screen effect made infamous by 24. All of this looks perfect, and the score sounds perfect, too, using a tango throughout to symbolize its dance of deceit.

Writer/producer Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy share a commentary track. They mostly discuss the production, but they shed light on a couple of key scenes that were moved or altered at the studio's suggestion.

I'll note that Duplicity reminded me a little bit of Black Test Car, a Japanese salaryman drama about rivalry in the automotive sector. However, Duplicity keeps its focus on the corporate espionage plot, while Test Car went more deeply into the company and the lives of its workers.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If you were looking for something more like a light comedy, you could feel cheated by Duplicity. While you might admire its satiric jabs, you probably won't laugh out loud. After you've immersed yourself in its world, though, there are a few comic payoffs toward the end.

Closing Statement

You ought to see Duplicity. I was sucked in and fascinated by its many twists. However, it's low on the romance and comedy you might expect from Julia Roberts. While I found that refreshing, anyone looking for those things will want to rent rather than buy.

The Verdict

Not guilty. I'm heading back to the DVD Verdict corporate bunker; there's a pizza party going on.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 90
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy
• Crime
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary


• IMDb

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