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3 reviews, 10 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Slipping Between The Ledger Sheets"
5 stars

Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone to see a number of films where I have walked away afterwards with pretty much the same reaction--that the writing and directing left much to be desired but that the performances from the perfectly cast lead actors were so winning and entertaining that their efforts helped to elevate the substandard material and direction that they were given and helped make them worth watching to one degree or another. In other words, the films haven’t been tremendously exciting and the prospect of trying to write essentially the same review over and over again has been even less so. Walking into “Duplicity,” I was expecting to see yet another film along these lines--a silly bit of nonsense aided immeasurably by the presence of actors far better than the material they were working with based on the fairly uninspiring commercials that have been running incessantly for the last few weeks. As it turns out, “Duplicity” is nothing like those middling movies that have been clogging the multiplexes as of late because while it is filled with a bunch of nifty performances from good actors firing on all cylinders, their contributions have been supported here by a smart, witty and literate screenplay and ultra-stylish direction.

As you can probably surmise from the title alone, “Duplicity” is one of those intricately crafted narratives where even the most seemingly benign bits of information can contain major plot spoilers, so I will be as brief and vague as possible in describing it to you. The film opens in 2003 at a lavish consulate party in Dubai where rakish British rogue Ray Koval (Clive Owen) meets cute with gorgeous American babe Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and the two wind up in bed together. It turns out that both of them are spies--he for MI 6 and she for the CIA--and when Ray finally wakes up 18 hours later, both Claire and the important secret plans hidden in his room have disappeared. Five years after that professional disaster, we learn that Ray has left the agency for the more lucrative position of corporate spy for the multinational conglomerate Omnikrom and while on his first assignment, he not only unexpectedly runs across Claire again but discovers that she has also gone to the private sector by working as a counter-intel analyst for rival corporation Burkett & Randle. Now when I say that Omnikrom and Burkett & Randle are rivals, I do not mean that they are rivals in the bland we’re-all-in-the-same-business manner--when respective heads Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) and Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) cross paths on the same airport tarmac, they break free of their underlings and begin punching and kicking each other right then and there. The rivalry heats up even further when rumblings begin to emerge that B&R is about to announce a top-secret project that could potentially be worth billions to whomever owns it or manages to steal it from under the noses of those who do own it. This is the point where I refuse to say any more about what transpires, though the aforementioned commercials do let on a few additional twists that you might not want to know about going in.

“Duplicity” was written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who has become Hollywood’s go-to guy for putting together twisty globe-trotting scripts through his work on the three Jason Bourne films and who made an auspicious directorial debut a couple of years ago with the highly acclaimed legal drama “Michael Clayton.” From a screenwriting perspective, his work here is a real beauty in the way that it manages to combine the seemingly mutually exclusive elements of corporate skullduggery and romantic repartee in ways that are always fresh, surprising and entertaining. Like many films of this type, the screenplay also employs a fractured chronology that constantly flashes back to earlier times so as to help underscore what is going on in the current story and includes any number dramatic plot twists and turns that forces viewers to constantly reevaluate what is going on at any given point. Unlike most films of this type, Gilroy’s screenplay does so in ways that actually serve to develop and enhance the story and the characters instead of just serving as empty distractions--although things do get a little complicated for its own good towards the end, it pretty much plays fair throughout and refreshingly assumes that its audience is smart and nimble enough to keep up without having to constantly explain to them what is going on. And even though the film is primarily intended to serve just as entertainment, it still manages to say a few interesting things about the contemporary corporate mindset that places a higher value on driving up the stock price by any means necessary than it does on actually showing any kind of real creative initiative.

Since Gilroy is a highly acclaimed writer by trade, the impressive nature of the screenplay probably shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. What is surprising, on the other hand, is just how fluid and exciting he proves himself to be here as a director. Yes, “Michael Clayton” was an excellent film but for the most part, it wasn’t exactly a challenge from a filmmaking perspective--nearly every scene consisted of two or three people in a room delivering long exchanges of wonderfully crafted dialogue and little else. “Duplicity,” on the other hand, is chock-full of the elements that would give even veteran directors pause--multiple locations, a fractured and highly complicated narrative, a breathless pace, a large cast and a couple of elaborate set-pieces in which everything has to come off with split-second precision if they are to work at all--and he pulls all of them off with the steady and assured ease of someone who has been directing for decades. He juggles the complicated story and structure without ever allowing things to get too confusing and keeps things going in such a way so that we never lose the main thread even when it threatens to get a little too complex. He obviously does a good job with the dialogue scenes but he is equally good with the more action-oriented moments--the sequence in which Claire hurriedly rushes through an empty office building in search of one specific room when none of them have any identifying numbers and time is of the extreme essence is a little masterpiece of pure kinetic filmmaking all by itself. If nothing else, “Duplicity” proves that “Michael Clayton” was no fluke and that Tony Gilroy is a director to watch in the future.

I also greatly admired the two lead performances from Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, making their first on-screen appearance together since the decidedly different “Closer,” even though it would seems at first blush that they have been wildly miscast--Roberts has never really called upon to portray the sex-bomb type that she does here (even as the hooker in “Pretty Woman,” she was more of a sweetheart than an object of lust) and Owen has never really been called upon to portray the charming leading man type (his emotional range tends to run the gamut from broody to extra-broody). Nevertheless, both of them pull off their roles wonderfully--Roberts hasn’t been this funny or sexy in years, Owen (last seen plodding through “The International” with a constant scowl of grim determination) shows off heretofore undetected levels of charm (there are some moments when he looks and sounds for all purposes like the second coming of Cary Grant) and they both play wonderfully off of each other throughout. As the rival corporate heads, Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson are equally good as well (Wilkinson is especially impressive in a role that sort of plays like an inspired inversion of his part in “Michael Clayton”) and Gilroy also gives his large supporting cast many places to shine as well--one standout is Carrie Preston as an unassuming K&R travel agent who finds herself swept off her feet by Ray as part of an especially devious attempt to glean information.

“Duplicity” is a blast from beginning to end and one of the snappiest films of its type to come along in a while. It is smart, sexy and surprising and as it came to its incredibly satisfying conclusion, I found myself marveling about the seeming ease with which all of the elements fell into place and wondering why it is apparently so difficult for other filmmakers these days to do the same. While I am certain that better movies will no doubt emerge throughout the rest of 2009, it is hard to believe that very many of them will provide as much sheer entertainment value as “Duplicity” does.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17538&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/20/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

8/26/10 hart Very entertaining. Not too complex; just right. 4 stars
7/02/10 ad perfect part for owen! 4 stars
3/31/10 Charles Tatum Predictable unpredictablity, but still glossy fun 4 stars
9/24/09 Lynne I fell asleep 2 stars
9/03/09 nogaffin Lousy movie. Too many twist. Nobody could possibly follow the plot. 2 stars
8/30/09 dee Owen, Roberts & cast do a fine job, but I found the ending unsatisfying 3 stars
8/05/09 Gompa Kat utterly boring, needlessly confusing, turned off the rented DVD 2 stars
4/03/09 malcolm pretty good, flashbacks were a little confusing, JR is still playing Erin Brokovich 3 stars
4/02/09 Ming The flashback is making me dizzy 2 stars
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  20-Mar-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Aug-2009


  DVD: 25-Aug-2009

Directed by
  Tony Gilroy

Written by
  Tony Gilroy

  Julia Roberts
  Clive Owen
  Tom Wilkinson
  Paul Giamatti
  Rick Worthy

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