Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Film review: Duplicity

Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson
Country: USA

“If I told you I loved you would it make a difference” Claire Stenwick
“If you told me or if I believed you?” Ray Koval

Pitt/Jolie, Clooney/Lopez, Bogart/Bocall: now there’s a list of onscreen couples that sizzled in smart, sexy, sassy movies. Tony Gilroy gets half the equation right in his slick cinematic ride Duplicity: Clive Owen brings it all with a touch of class whilst Julia Roberts forgoes both the sex and sass, instead occupying the screen with little more than a smug grin.

Not that Gilroy doesn’t try his best to objectify America’s sweetheart, his first shot of the leading lady leering so far over her Brockovich chasm one fears the camera might disappear forever. In fact Gilroy spends much time of the time allowing his camera to obsess over Roberts’ physicality whether using those long legs as a means to identify her in a crowd, or trying to hypnotise the audience with her constant pouting, arm-folding and eyebrow raising.

If you’re tricked into thinking that passes for charisma more fool you, but then that’s what Duplicity is all about. If you can get passed the baggage Roberts’ brings to her leading role you’ll find a jaunty corporate espionage thriller that gets its kicks playing paranoia as pop-parody for screwball laughs.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s fun to be hand here and Gilroy relishes the opportunity, injecting a kinky sense of pizzazz to the whole affair. Witty repartees, confidence games and split screens all identify this as the smart-pants movie of the year. It’s a shame then that it all comes off as an awfully convoluted affair that jumps from one staged sequence to another, back and forth between the present and the past.

Gilroy moves the pieces around his board in a torrent of double-dealing and double-speak as two ex-spies turned star-crossed lovers, Claire Stenwick and Ray Koval, vie to out-dupe their respective companies, headed by rival CEOs Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti) and Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Giamatti is a constant source of scenery-chomping amusement while Wilkinson connives: one or both might get ripped off by the end of the movie but I’d love to see these two pair up as a sort of modern day Randolph and Mortimer.

The ins and outs of the plot don’t matter much, its all maguffins, smoke screens and slight of hand. Combined though with the dizzying pace of Gilroy’s script one wonders if the film wasn’t written with Mensa candidates as the target audience – course it’s mostly just a bunch of arm waving to throw us off scent. Snappy as it is at times, carried ably by a wry Owen throwing every bit of light-footed charm he’s got into the film, Duplicity just can’t sustain over two-hours of running around in circles like this. It all gets very tiresome once you realise the plot is in fact wafer thin and Roberts isn’t even particularly likeable.

As a sophmore outing Gilroy continues to show a great deal of promise, but as a director he has overindulged himself here and his choice of leading lady is an unfortunate by-product of that. Duplicity’s spunk appears entirely juxtaposed to an actress apparently with little left beyond her own tried, tested and tired persona to offer the acting fraternity.

A shame really, because all this needed to carry it over the finishing line was a real spark between the leads. Perhaps they should have gotten thrown into the trunk of a car together, dance the tango or smuggled people for La Résistance instead of concocting an elaborate con game and playing cute. The smartest, sexiest and sassiest films are usually the ones that don’t have to try so hard.

Scott Henderson

Duplicity is released in Australia 19 March, 2009


Unknown said...

So I take it Roberts was the weak link, hey?! :)

Shame. I was looking forward to having fun with this film. Who would you have cast instead?

And what about Closer? Maybe Roberts just needs to be playing angsty to generate chemistry.

Paul Martin said...

I think Gilroy's previous film was massively over-rated, just another silly thriller (it's so forgettable that I can't recall the title, the one with Clooney in it). Clive Owen is about as convincing as a wooden door, which made him perfect for Children of Men, but I'm tired of his severely limited range. Julie Roberts... say no more. There's three reasons for me not to waste my time.

Scott Henderson said...

Hey Alice, well I hope this didn't come off as a rant, it wasn't supposed to. Funny you should mentioned, but I talked briefly about their chemistry in Closer in a another draft of my review. Yes it is strange, bizarre even, that given that past piece of work there wouldn't be more to see here, but Roberts is at a very different place in her career, one where motherhood has taken priority over a profession that had already become little more than a phone in gig anyway.

Who would I have cast instead? That's an impossible question from my seat to answer. There no predicting such things.

Paul, sorry but you're I think your wrong about Michael Clayton which was a masterful film that is easily one of the best scripts I've seen in the last couple of years and supremely well executed. And I don't think there was anything particularly silly about that film either.