Duplicity continues writer/director Tony Gilroy's growing fascination and exploration of corporate greed. The casual flick frequenter may recognize him as the credited screenwriter of the energetic Bourne series, but Gilroy has been steadily building up his reputation as a director with a unique perspective on today's social political environment. The setting of Duplicity finds a perfect marriage between the espionage shenanigans of the Bourne trilogy and the welcome introspection of Michael Clayton, Gilroy's debut feature as a director from a couple of years ago. The tone however is decidedly different this occasion. This is a caper film served under a wrapping of breezy, yesteryears Hollywood romance and strangely enough, it works delightfully well.
Admittedly, some parts of the script are too laborious for a film that pretends to be this cool, employing the frequent use of split screens, jazzy musical cues and jumps in chronology. Clive Owen, as proven here and in the other good release of the year so far, The International, is an actor I would be thrilled to watch simply reading the yellow pages. His nasal angst and Brit tough guy demeanor is affable yet oddly engrossing. Here he finally plays an (ex)MI6 agent, fulfilling for many a desire to have seen him as Bond, though instead of dodging bullets he grapples with lies, deceits and more cover-ups than any one film can handle. Much of double cross is the construct of Julia Roberts ex-CIA agent, now working undercover at a large beauty products conglomerate, researching a secretive new product. The nuts and bolts of the plot are secondary to two other things – the fact that the top two billed stars have brisk chemistry that works when it isn't drowning itself in being hip, and the machinations of the how they try to go about scamming their employers in the hopes of getting rich enough to retire.
For those that enjoy quick witted banter, there are numerous setups, mostly set in the past, like the opening scene in Dubai (a city mentioned at least a dozen times throughout the running time). What seems at first like a chance encounter between Roberts' Claire and Owens' Ray gradually reveals itself to be a ploy to dupe us, the audience and to throw us off guard. This is a film where logic is secondary to how the game of con can reap thrills and uncertainty. The relationship between Claire and Ray is reminiscent of a certain Mr. and Mrs. Smith but the playful, continuous distrust between the couple here feels real, like it would if two spies were in a relationship with each other. Even though the exaggerated, clandestine corporate warfare of the film, echoing American cold war pursuits and other political intrigue, has very little of the venom, spite or satire of Alexander Payne's Election, a film not unlike Duplicity about a real world situation set on a miniature scale, there is more juice in the game of con and oneupmanship between Roberts and Owen to keep you engaged with its pseudo sexual tension. - Faizan Rashid