Published Mar 19, 2009After winning seven Oscar nominations and one award for Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy has certainly capitalized on his debut feature's success. For his second film, he's reunited Closer stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen for yet another one of his "keep 'em guessing" adventures.
The stars play a pair of spies — Ray (Owen), an MI6 agent, and Claire (Roberts), a CIA officer — who become romantically entangled during a mission. Over the course of five years or so, they begin to develop an exit strategy to leave their covert jobs in order to retire and finally spend some time together.
They find an opportunity in the high stakes world of pharmaceuticals, where two rival CEOs — Burkett Randle's Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Equikrom's Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) — battle to stay ahead of one another. When Tully prepares to unveil a groundbreaking product, Garsik puts his team to work (including both Ray and Claire, who is doubling as security for Tully), pulling out all the stops in order to uncover the secret and beat him to the punch. This locks Ray and Claire in a surreptitious game of double-crossing, all while trying to secure a future together.
Much like he did in his Bourne scripts and in the back-and-forth twists of Michael Clayton, Gilroy keeps the action fast and on its heels, moving through flashbacks and various locales with stylish fervour. There are problems, however. The first is the script; while its language is loaded with zingers and clever twists, brought to life by the high calibre cast, the consequences and of course, the "gotcha" exposed at the end feel rather trite and hardly the risky business one had hoped for.
Therefore the whole thing rests on the chemistry of its two stars. And surprisingly, Duplicity is let down by its leading couple. Though they match wits with perfect bite and play the untrustworthy angle with pizzazz, Roberts and Owen can't seem to create the fireworks one would expect from such a team. And given the circumstances of a plot like this, and what they achieved in Closer (though with much nastier and bitter results), it would seem like a given.
Though it can't live up to its heavyweight cast and ultimate pay-off, Duplicity still offers a fun ride and yet another intricate tale from one of Hollywood's better storytellers. (Universal)