Saturday, March 21, 2009


Tony Gilroy, coming off a very successful film in "Michael Clayton," goes for a comedic take in "Duplicity," which at times reaches great, Coen Brothers-type humor, which is quite odd for a blatantly mainstream romantic spy comedy. If it had stuck with these bits of brilliance throughout the film, this might be quite a gem. Unfortunately, Gilroy feels the need to keep it audience-friendly: hence the casting of adored but somewhat mediocre Ms. Roberts, nee Julia, who shows more of her usual, somewhat forced acting across from Clive Owen, a man I thought was pretty amazing in "Children of Men." Here, he plays the deadpan style he's renowned for and does it quite well. He knows how to deliver Gilroy's perfectly-pitched script, and he's somewhat of the force of the film. He's the perfect match for Roberts: he's so super-slick and sly as a fox, when he's caught off guard, you can see it in his eyes. Except in this film, there are a lot of fronts (as said by many a review like Ebert). Although Gilroy's bait and switch was a little obvious, his ultimate payoff is a beautiful surprise, cultivating in a real dupe.

Here's the set-up: two CEOs, one a well-dressed, organized businessman (Gilroy veteran Tom Wilkinson, who does well yet again), the other a farcical, conniving man without a real plan (Paul Giamatti, who shows he can do hilarious satire for the umpteenth time, and as Lisa Schwarzbaum said, plays a "Giamattian character"), are seriously deadly rivals (witness the magnificently done credits sequence fight). Giamatti's character wants the secrets behind the mysterious product that Wilkinson possesses, and he'll stop at nothing to retrieve them. Enter Roberts and Owen, who are agents set up on both sides to try to ensure that Giamatti gets what he wants. The two also have a somewhat charged relationship: she drugged him in Dubai, and he'll never get over it, even though he comes back for more. What ensues is a well-written film that feels it needs to appeal to everyone, which is the problem.

There are flashes of brilliance, most definitely. Owen steals the show with his hilarious Tennessee accent, and his remarks about frozen pizza. The mystery product I've seen people complain about, but could it be any more satisfying? It's so Coen-esque. Gilroy is establishing himself as a key player in the business of screenwriting: he's done Bourne, a great legal thriller, and now a funny, unpredictable spy film. If he stuck to his roots in "Duplicity," he could have really gone for gold. Instead, it's half as brilliant, and only somewhat as good as it could be. B

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