a critiQal film review Duplicity (2009)

Plot: CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and MI6 agent Ray Koval (Owen) have left the world of government intelligence to cash in on the highly profitable cold war raging between two rival multinational corporations. Their mission? Secure the formula for a product that will bring a fortune to the company that patents it first.

642 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 12s)
  • ...Julia Roberts and Clive Owen re-team in a film that's so bogged down by lies and deceit it prevents either from actually giving viewers a reason to watch this one.

Since Heather’s birthday was this past Tuesday, it was her turn to pick out the movie we were going to see. While I tried to convince her that Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) was the right choice, she opted instead for the new Julia Roberts/Clive Owen flick, Duplicity.

While I wasn’t interested enough in seeing the movie in theaters, I figured she could have picked something a lot worse (Adventureland, for instance), so I – not without some trepidation – took her to see Duplicity. Would Heather’s birthday film be an enjoyable experience, or should I have pushed harder for Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)?

Julia Roberts, who hasn’t been as active in films as of late, comes back once again in Duplicity. While she got big playing characters that tended to attract female viewers, guys usually didn’t mind tagging along – she had an appeal for both sexes, in other words.

In Duplicity, unfortunately, she seems to have lost a lot of that appeal. Instead of the easy presence she used to bring to her films – and an infectious, carefree vibe she infused those roles with – this time around she seems a lot more standoffish. Instead of connecting with her character, the audience instead keeps her at a distance, and thus never really gets totally involved in her actions.

Clive Owen, who has shown he’s ready to take on the action hero mantle with films liek Sin City (2005) and Shoot ‘Em Up (2007), manages to shift his persona to fit his role. While he’s managed to carry an out-of-her-depth Jennifer Aniston (Derailed (2005)), he’s a bit at a loss as to how to manage with Roberts in Duplicity. While the two seem to mesh well together, the audience never quite gets their relationship, making it hard for the viewer to really care about them.

The bit characters are much more interesting. Paul Giamatti, going with his now classic wild-eyed look and Tom Wilkinson – showing more spunk in a film than viewers have seen in awhile – are standouts amongst the rest of the cast. Despite only a few scenes, the two of them are fun to watch, and their odd muted fight during the beginning credits turns out to be a high point of hilarity in the film.

A lot of the problems with Duplicity can be laid directly at director Tony Gilroy’s feet. Thanks to some irritating dialogue repetition and “24” (TV)-like effects (the screen is quartered to show 4 separate shots, before one shot expands to fill the entire screen), the film seems destined to be a TV movie, not a big screen event. In fact, viewers will be hoping for a commercial break, just to give them a chance to step away from the movie without completely giving up on it.

While the plot itself probably seemed like a good idea on paper, the translation to the big screen is less than expected. With the characters spending most of the film deceiving themselves and each other, most of the tension in the film is based on whether the two main characters (Roberts and Owen) are going to double-cross each other or not – and with the script setting up instance after instance of possible double-cross, the viewer will soon tire of the intricacies. Since the characters are not all that interesting to begin with, sticking with them through all the innuendos gets a bit too tiring for the average viewer.

Rather than the romantic comedy it pretends to be, Duplicity is instead a twisted tale of two ex-agents who have been so jaded by their jobs they expect nothing but the worst from people, and thus spend most of their time second-guessing the other, rather than concentrating on the job at hand.

It’s actually rather depressing when you get right down to it, and not something most viewers will want to witness.

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