I’m not the best person to review a movie like Duplicity. There are some individuals who have no problem with zero exposition, flashbacks all over the place, and characters with convoluted backstories that are never really explained. Those same individuals might praise a movie like Duplicity for being high-minded, or deep and thoughtful, or off the beaten path, or cerebral, or any number of other such adjectives.
I’m not one of those people.
It’s not that I can’t appreciate Duplicity. I would, if I could understand what in the world was going on.
This tale of backstabbing, double-crossing, and corporate espionage probably sounded great on paper. It pairs one of the most universally appealing actresses of our time, Julia Roberts, with a somewhat lesser-known but equally solid Clive Owen. It is directed by Tony Gilroy, who helmed Michael Clayton, the fairly well-executed tale of corporate corruption. It’s also got one of the hottest go-to actors today, Paul Giamatti. But somewhere along the line things went off track and the movie ends up being more of a convoluted mess than a thinking man’s Ocean’s 11, which is what it was clearly striving for.
As the movie opens, Clive Owen’s character Ray Koval bumps into Claire Stenwick, played by Roberts, at a party in Dubai. The two strangers exchange a series of witty quips before promptly hopping into bed (this is Hollywood, after all. *sigh*) and the next morning Koval wakes up and Stenwick is nowhere to be found. Turns out the Stenwick is an ex-CIA agent, and Koval is an ex-MI6 operative, and both are just trying to make a buck by conning corporations into unwittingly giving up secret formulas, recipes, product plans, and the like. Has she been playing Koval, using him to get access to MI6 information? Did Koval know she was CIA and was he using her the whole time? Don’t worry, the answers to such questions will only kind of be revealed after many jumps both forward and backward in time, and at the end of the movie the viewer will still be trying to figure out what in the world was going on the whole time.
The basic gist of the movie is such: Koval and Stenwick, in a post-cold-war era, have turned to corporate espionage as a way to use their considerable talents of sneakery and deception. The trick is, though, can two people for whom a mindset of deception is so deeply ingrained, have a normal relationship? It’s an interesting question, really, but the answer is mired under so many convoluted layers, plots, and subplots, that no satisfying answer is ever really given. Throughout the movie we see the two of executing, along with a Mission Impossible-type of supporting team, the theft of a secret formula to cure baldness from a pharmaceutical company.
Yes, some heist movies are about money, others are about jewels, and others about artifacts. This one is about a secret formula to cure baldness. But it could have been worse: had they not gone for the baldness cure at the company Stenwick was infiltrating, they would have gone for (wait for it…) the recipe, at the company Koval was busy infiltrating, for a hawaiian-style frozen pizza.
After finishing with Duplicity, and reading over a plot synopsis and asking my wife to give me her take on what it was all about, I suppose I can appreciate the filmmaking a little more. But with the myriad plot twists, double-crosses, and unresolved conflicts, I just don’t think it makes for a very entertaining or interesting movie.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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