Duplicity Review


Tony Gilroy knows the spy genre. He’s written the Bourne movies and “Michael Clayton” in addition to directing the latter (although Clayton isn’t a spy film per se, it follows many of the same conventions). The tone of those features was deadly serious. In “Duplicity,” Gilroy switches things up. He takes what worked best in those films but added a tone that’s breezy and fun. It’s very reminiscent of the Ocean’s trilogy, but not as blatantly comedic. With its dense plot and numerous surprising twists, “Duplicity” is a rewarding and greatly entertaining two hours.

Ray Koval (Clive Owen) is an MI-6 agent. Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) works for the CIA. They first meet in Dubai, five years before the plot of “Duplicity” begins. Ray hits on Claire, they go back to his hotel room, and she drugs and robs him. Ray couldn’t get her and his plans for revenge off his mind, and when they meet five years later, Ray has some great leverage over her. They both work in corporate security now. Ray works for a company called Equikrom, as does Claire, but her role is as a spy from within its arch-rival, Burkett and Randle. Ray is running Claire’s undercover operation. She doesn’t trust him, perhaps with good reason, for Ray told her if she says anything to anyone about their history, he will call Burkett and Randle and inform them of the traitor in their midst.

The two companies are in the beauty products business. The head of Burkett and Randle, Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), has discovered a product that will change the fortunes of his company forever. Out of fear of losing his secret, he won’t tell anyone what it is. Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), head of Equikrom, wants to crush Burkett and Randle and will do anything to get his hands on that product. So Ray, Claire, and the rest of the Equikrom team are working to get the secret, but Ray and Claire might have a different agenda, for this might not be the first time they’ve seen each other since Dubai.

Despite all of its twists and turns, “Duplicity” would’ve fallen apart without its charismatic leading pair. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, while not necessarily turning in Award-worthy performances (what’s up with that Golden Globe nod for Roberts?) they do everything expected and required of them and more. They have great chemistry. Their characters both prove capable of one-upping the other (we are never quite sure which one, if either of them, is in control). And they sell us on the most important aspect of their relationship and perhaps the film as a whole: these two really love each other, but because of the nature of their careers, can never trust the other. Claire sums it up perfectly when she says Ray is the only person who could ever love her, because he is the only man who’s ever understood her. But Ray is also the only man she could never be with. The same goes for Ray. Neither of them could ever love someone who they couldn’t have complete control over. The relationship between these two is complex and really interesting. Gilroy and the actors don’t sell us short by giving us a complex plot and a standard, paint-by-numbers romance. They complement each other well.

The plot is difficult to follow, but not impossible. The twists are surprising and ensure the film is always one step ahead of the viewer (unlike most modern thrillers of this nature). Perhaps the one fault of the film is its non-linear stroy-telling style. Many of the events are shown through flashbacks, which come at appropriate times in the story, but I can’t help but think the plot is convoluted enought without resorting to this type of story-telling. It’s jarring and disrupts some of the story’s tension.

But overall, “Duplicity” is a twisty thrill ride of the highest order. It’s as straight-up entertaining as anything. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts show great chemistry, while Tony Gilroy’s script is smart and sharp. “Michael Clayton” was one of the best directorial debuts of the decade. While “Duplicity” isn’t on par with that, it is a great time and shows Gilroy is a director to keep an eye on in the future.

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