Outwit. Outplay. Outplot.
Outwit. Outplay. Outplot.
I had the pleasure of watching two films with very similar themes within a short period of time. One of them was this film I'm reviewing, Duplicity, starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts as two corporate spies working for rival corporations. The other was the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan as a multi-millionaire who steals a valuable painting, and Rene Russo as the insurance agent investigating him. Both films feature two sexy actors pitted against each other in a plot involving mind games and deception with a healthy dose of witty banter thrown in between the two. Each film succeeds on the banter part, but one of them felt like it was missing something, as if there was not really much going on underneath all that verbal wit. Guess which one I'm talking about?
Plot Synopsis: The story starts out in Dubai, where our two leads Ray and Claire meet for the first time and then spend the night together. But Claire, a CIA spy, was merely using Ray, an MI6 spy, as a means of stealing inside information. Five years later in New York City, Ray is retired from MI6 and now works for Dick Garsik as a corporate spy trying to obtain knowledge of a mysterious new product being created by a rival corporation owned by Howard Tully. While on an assignment to meet with a mole in the rival's staff, Ray comes across Claire again, realizing that she is the mole that he must work with. The two are not exactly enthusiastic about this team up, and we are clued in on how both of them got into their respective positions through flashbacks showcasing their evolving relationship over the years.
So there I was, sitting in the movie theater about halfway through Duplicity being fairly entertained by the humor and charismatic performances from Owen and Roberts. But at one point during one of the films numerous flashbacks, I came to a realization: for all the plot twists, banter, and directorial adeptness of Tony Gilroy, there wasn't a solid foundation beneath the surface that should have me invested in these characters. Sure they had great chemistry together when they were in the same scenes, but after going through a few where the two of them are separated I realized that they were merely ciphers, plot devices meant to move the plot along through its complicated machinations. Again, this is not the fault of the two stars, who appear to be having a fun time with their roles and playing off of each other through their turbulent relationship. In the end I just didn't care about either of them or their goals. Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson seem to be having a blast with their roles as the heads of the rival companies, starting with their brawl during the opening credits and following through with a couple of displays of delicious scenery chewing.
Coming off of Gilroy’s Oscar winning Michael Clayton, Duplicity feels like a much different affair, but at the same time does not. The humor is a refresher from the dead seriousness of Clayton, but the film still has that "cold" feeling of detachment from the proceedings that would normally work in a drama, but not for a supposedly breezy, fun thriller. It is as if Gilroy had been filming both movies at the same time and in the same mindset, but with completely different scripts. Also, the overemphasis on plot doesn't help with the issue of the previously mentioned underdeveloped characters, and it feels like there is a large amount of plot created to hide the lack of development in them. The amount of twists the story goes through in its running time grows tiresome, and soon become predictable as we begin to count down to the next one, since we know that whatever is thrown at us at the moment isn't really what it seems. Although his snappy and sharp dialogue is nearly overshadowed by the plot, Gilroy directs the film with adept precision and well-staged shots that at least prove that he can still direct and that he isn't hitting a major sophomore slump.
What should have been a lightweight, entertaining thriller in the same vein as To Catch a Thief and Mr. and Mrs. Smith has been turned into a film that is at times funny, well written, and confidently directed, but at the same time muddled and cold. It is not a bad film by any means; it just didn't grab me or keep me interested.