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March 25, 2009 > Movie Review: Duplicity - A clever and joyful scam

Movie Review: Duplicity - A clever and joyful scam

By Joe Samagond

"Duplicity" is superior entertainment and one of the most elegantly pleasurable movies of its kind to come around in a very long time. Its densely coiled plot and splintered chronology unveil a cascade of familiar genres and styles. It is a caper movie, a love story and an extra-dry corporate satire, all rolled into one. A throwback to the days of old-school caper movies like the Cary Grant/Grace Kelly "To Catch a Thief," "Duplicity" is just the kind of sophisticated amusement you would expect from filmmaker Tony Gilroy. The writer on all three "Bourne" films and the writer-director of "Michael Clayton," Gilroy has become a master of modernized tradition, displaying a gift for updating classic Hollywood forms with smart and sophisticated contemporary touches.

Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) are both spies-turned-corporate operatives; Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) and Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) are CEOs of their respective bigwig pharmaceutical outfits - Equikrom and Burkett & Randle. Burkett & Randle has discovered a cream that will revolutionize the industry and yield untold profits. Equikrom, needs to steal the secret to that lotion. Enter Ray and Steinwick to play out this corporate espionage. It turns out that they have a bantering and romantic history, told over elegantly split-screened flashbacks involving five-star hotels in Dubai, Rome, Miami and London. But who exactly is working for whom, and who's playing whom - adds to the mystery.

As you can imagine, the Roberts-Owen interaction is the key element in this movie. There is a clever electricity of sexual tension between them that pervades the movie. Their effortless, wisecracking chemistry lights up the picture. And the story is so clever that at the end even some of the characters aren't quite sure what's happened. One of the coolest scenes by far at the start - a slow-motion wrestling match between the film's two megalomaniacal CEOs: Burkett, played by "Michael Clayton's" Tom Wilkinson, and Equikrom, played by Paul Giamatti.

Owen, on whom a two-piece suit becomes a brazenly sexual uniform, opens many bottles of champagne and looks hungrily at Roberts, even though Claire is more of a natural predator. For this film, her first real starring role in quite a while, Roberts has almost entirely left behind the America's-sweetheart mannerisms, except when she uses them strategically, to disarm or confuse. Curvier than she used to be and with a touch of weariness around her eyes and impatience in her voice, she is, at 41, unmistakably in her prime. Their rattling dialogue has the cut-time speed and precision of old-style romantic comedy and it is a joy to behold.

"Duplicity" is one of the least-confusing thrillers in recent memory. For a movie that devotes itself so entirely to narrative feints and switchbacks, it's EASY to follow - because Gilroy lays out every aspect of the story in the clearest possible terms. Only in the final act does he lapse, but by then it barely matters.

Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual content
Runtime: 125 minutes

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