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March 22, 2009 - Ken Womack
Duplicity **½

Duplicity is a caper film with grand intentions. And with a little more care—and a much less convoluted plot—it might very well have achieved greatness.

Duplicity is the brainchild of writer/director Tony Gilroy, the filmmaker who directed the splendid Michael Clayton, as well as the author of the screenplays for the highly acclaimed Bourne series.

Duplicity stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as Claire and Ray, a pair of globetrotting international spies. After a seemingly random meeting in Dubai, they begin a romantic flirtation that continues, years later in New York City, after they leave the spy game to start new careers in the cloak-and-dagger world of corporate espionage.

In their new lives, Claire and Ray work as secret agents for Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti), the cantankerous CEO of a commercial soap company. He will stop at nothing to outsmart Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), a wily CEO and Garsik’s chief rival from another, highly successful soap firm. Things come to a head, when Tully announces a major new medical invention that will change the soap business forever.

Garsik dispatches Claire and Ray to infiltrate Tully’s company and obtain the secret formula for the medical invention. In so doing, they begin a string of covert activities that ratchets up the film’s tension considerably. To give anything more would risk revealing the multiplicity of layers at the heart of the movie.

Unfortunately, the film’s layers make little, if any sense in retrospect. Most audience members will find the manner in which the film doubles-back and contradicts itself to be utterly irritating. Perhaps even more problematic are the romantic leads themselves. While Owen has proven himself to be a natural fit for the spy genre, Roberts is terribly miscast. With her vastly limited range, she hardly seems believable in the role of a clever secret agent.

Although Gilroy has demonstrated himself to be an able and inventive writer, Duplicity is clearly a misfire in his otherwise stellar career. With its competing and nonsensical plot layers, the film fails to achieve coherence of any kind.


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