Former MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen, "Closer," "The International") and ex-CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts, "Closer," "Charlie Wilson's War") are corporate operatives for competing clients who should not be having the affair they are secretly conducting. When their employers end up in a full out war, the lovers must each decide whether to trust their heart or suspect their sweetie of "Duplicity."
After exploring corporate malfeasance and its human toll with 2007's "Michael Clayton," writer/director Tony Gilroy conjures up two ex-spies out to manipulate scheming corporate CEOs and their dirty tricks teams in one of the first truly adult romantic comedies to come down the pike in quite some time. "Duplicity" has been heaped with praise, which may raise expectations unfairly, though. The film is a little long, and for all its time jumping narrative, requiring rapt attention, the author's final punch line, clearly meant to pull the audience's rug out from under it, may instead make them feel duped.
That isn't to say that "Duplicity" isn't bright and shiny fun. There is a great deal of enjoyment to be had watching Omnikrom head Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti, "Sideways") and Burkett and Randall (Proctor and Gamble?) soap seller Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton") break out into a knock down, drag out fight on a rainy tarmac as the opening credits roll. And this after a nice prologue of sparring and spying between Owens and Roberts in 2003 Dubai, an episode where Claire outwitted Ray and which is forever after referred to as something he cannot get over. Gilroy's script is packed with recurring motifs like this - repeated dialogue meant to misdirect, serious silliness regarding the market impact of frozen pizza toppings, a champagne cork used as a signal - which make the story seem more complex than it really is. Instead, these details should be enjoyed like the bubbles which give champagne its fizz, delicious dialogue delivered with staccato precision by Owens and Roberts. (Listen also for faint echoes of "Casablanca" - 'I had a knee brace, you had toe rings.')
At first, we're not made privy to what's going on. We're given the point of view of Omnikrom's Duke Monahan (Denis O'Hare, "A Flash of Genius") and his team, observing new guy Ray discovering to his apparent horror that his 'meet' is none other than Claire. She's a mole for Omnikrom at Burkett and Randall and has found a handwritten letter from Howard Tully announcing a revolutionary new product - but not what the product is. As flashbacks mount, though, beginning with Rome three years prior in an opulent five star hotel all the way up to (and down to) a dingy crash pad twelve days ago, we learn that that reunion in Rome was the beginning of a plot to leave politics behind for the financial rewards of commercial espionage and a romantic retirement. The only problem? - neither of these two fully trusts that the other isn't playing them.
It's great to see Roberts, who hasn't played a lead role since 2001, and her "Closer" costar Owens, have some fun. Roberts isn't afraid to look her age, but that hardly matters - ask Paul Giamatti, who fairly foams at the mouth upon meeting her. Owens has had a series of dreary shoot-em-up roles of late and here he gets to play a seducer who's a bit unsure of himself - at least when he's not on the job, schtupping his way into some data by playing a Tennessee heart surgeon. Support is sparkling as well, particularly from Giamatti, all slick charisma in front of stock holders when not scheming behind the scenes. Wilkinson, in a 180 from his "Clayton" craziness, plays industry titan Tully like a Zen master. Carrie Preston ("Towelhead") is hilarious as the B&R exec who cannot believe her luck in being able to 'help' handsome bar pickup Owens and Kathleen Chalfant ("Kinsey") is like "Monsters, Inc.'s" Roz in a more elegant, professional package. Also watch for the likes of "The Visitor" director Tom McCarthy as Claire's B&R partner and Denmark's Ulrich Thomsen ("Celebration," "Brothers") as a Swiss executive.
The globe-trotting film looks terrific (cinematography by "Michael Clayton" and "There Will Be Blood's" Robert Elswit), with time and location transitions (editing by "Michael Clayton's" John Gilroy) made using four picture blocks against a black background. James Newton Howard's ("Michael Clayton," "The Dark Knight") score is atypical for the genre and distinctive without calling undue attention.
"Duplicity" requires some attention, but although one does not need a Mensa level IQ to follow the plot, it's a fresh romantic comedy that won't insult your intelligence.
Robin did not see this film.
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