After the Oscar-nominated success of Michael Clayton, director and screenwriter Tony Gilroy is once again plumbing the grimy depths of high-powered corporate malfeasance -- this time with even more convoluted double-crossing schemes and a breezy romance between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts.
Former government agents who quit their jobs to get rich in corporate espionage, Ray (Owen) and Claire (Roberts) are globe-hopping spies in love. They are tasked by a choleric boss (Paul Giamatti) to steal the secret product his arch-rival (Tom Wilkinson) is about to bring to market. Letters are purloined, security systems bypassed, and hidden financial trails followed around the world. Ray and Claire are supremely confident -- unless they're around each other. Accustomed to a life of deception, they cannot bring themselves to trust each other.
Duplicity comes on like a Bourne-style international thriller with Mamet-strength plot reversals and Ocean-grade sparkling repartee, and to be fair, a few scenes genuinely crackle with satisfying banter. The film works best when Owen and Roberts share the screen; one particular exchange of clever dialogue pleases Gilroy so much he riffs on it in three or four separate flashbacks. The retrospective unraveling of the couple's turbulent history is easily the most fun the film has to offer.
Despite its playful attitude, luxury settings, and finely tuned dialogue, Duplicity
never finds its groove. The jokes and crisp character moments are too far between, connected by a slack expository that take the film's ludicrous McGuffin much too seriously. I have no doubt that an over-the-counter cure for baldness would sell well, but as stakes for a 125 minute movie, it's an awfully thin conceit.
Overall, Duplicity lacks the tension and the wow-factor we've grown accustomed to from slick star vehicles -- there isn't a single explosion or gun fired, and the action sequences don't deserve the name. The film's climactic chase against the clock is the hectic search for a photocopy machine. But the greatest sin of all? The final triple-cross is telegraphed early in the first act. This would never have happened to David Mamet.