Dec 13, 2013

[Movies] Duplicty (2009)

There are days when I actually dig up a movie to watch just to have something to review for this blog. It's part of the "job" that this labor of love of a site is and sometimes it does mean that I get to enjoy some seriously interesting movies. Other times, well, at least I have something to review.

If you were to ask me the basic question of whether or not I liked Duplicity, I'm really not sure what to say immediately. I'd hate to have to answer the question with a response like "Well, it depends" - but that may be precisely how I feel about this. There's a lot going on in terms of this narrative that can distract you from value of watching Clive Owen and Julia Roberts try to flirt the pants off one another without actually flirting.

Then again, maybe you really enjoy those sorts of overly complicated narratives that require that you think in 4 dimensions. Or maybe you like transition devices that feel more at home in the 1960's even though that's not the setting of the movie.

Synopsis: Duplicity is essentially a romance movie presented as an espionage caper. It was written and directed by Tony Gilroy and managed to get Julia Roberts a Golden Globe nomination.

Five years ago at the American consulate in Dubai, MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) manages to seduce CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts). Although he was completely unaware that she was also a spy and thus is drugged by her in the process. She steals some classified information from Ray and moves on.  Fast forward to the present day and Ray now works as a corporate spy for a company known as Equikrom, run by CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti).

He's set to meet another spy inserted into Burkett & Randle - a rival company run by CEO Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). But first he spots Claire and confronts her. She issues a blanket denial of ever having met Ray before but he insists that they met in Dubai (and slept with one another). But again he doesn't immediately realize her true nature - she's the asset that he was supposed to meet. And now Ray is going to be her handler as she tries to determine Burke & Randle's secret project on behalf of Equikrom.

First, let's focus on our stars. Just having the two alone together worked surprisingly well. Owen and Roberts definitely have some interest chemistry that's somewhat different from what we usually see in her romantic comedies. The banter between them is rather well-written and the need for the to repeatedly "meet for the first time" throughout the movie is kind of endearing. This is not to say that they're a perfect couple together or anything else - it's just that their portrayal has a significant degree of being believable on screen.

The story is a bit of a mess, primarily because Gilroy decides to jump back and forth across time to tell his story. I can see the narrative value in what he was trying to accomplish - he wanted to have a number of plot twists revealed through flashbacks that would have us going "oh wow, that changes everything" or something like that. However execution was less than ideal and there were more than a few times that I found myself rather confused as to what exactly was going on. And the need to understand the plot sort of distracts you from treating this as some sort of a comedy.

But apparently this is in fact a comedy of sorts - Julia Roberts was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for some reason. And while I don't need my comedies to be slapstick or overrun with gross-out humor, I think I could have used more of a cue that this was supposed to be funny. Because a lot of times it just feels a little stressful since they are in fact spies and there's a weird love-hate relationship dynamic between the two characters. This is not Mr & Mrs. Smith or something like that.

I guess having Paul Giamatti was supposed to be a bigger clue that this was a comedy. And he was being rather oddball at times despite being the CEO of some big company of sorts. And his on-screen rivalry with Tom Wilkinson was interesting enough but a tad underutilized in the long run.

Duplicity certainly has its moments, especially if you enjoy listening to Clive Owen drone on in that way of his that is either amazingly charming or just plain annoying - it all depends on your tastes and sensibilities. But there's a few too many twists and turns to make this movie enjoyable on a more casual level and yet the plot is also not smart enough to be truly serious. So I can only give the movie a decent 3.5 times Owens and Roberts go through their first meeting spiel out of a possible 5.

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