Corporate Wars


09 March 2009| No Comments on Duplicity     by Sean Chavel


Duplicity isn’t impossible to follow. It just takes some work. That’s not a bad thing – the screenwriting of the golden age ’70’s were plum with complex and labyrinthian scripts. But Gilroy’s plot-toppling becomes self-consciously manufactured. The movie just gets way too convoluted. Nevertheless, the film has us spun in some entertaining detours. It’s watchable entertainment if you are shamelessly invested into movie star appeal. But if you are simply trying to catch up on lots of movies you have recently missed you could still sleep soundly at night if you skip this one.

The actors are of course Clive Owen and Julia Roberts in “Duplicity” and they are as locked into each other’s sex appeal as our eyes are on them. The pick-up dialogue by Owen is first-rate. Roberts plays hard to get, but only for a few moments. These two find a first-class hotel suite in Dubai. Simple lovemaking is not face value however. These two are clandestine government agents with agendas that go beyond oohing and ahhing under the covers.

They belong to opposite camps. Roberts is CIA agent Claire Stenwick and Owen is MI6 agent Ray Koval. One is smarter than the other. Guess which one? Five years later these two will be infused with tension and regret for one another. But hold on, they are no longer agents. They are both working as rival corporate spies for multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerates. Owen is under Paul Giamatti and Roberts is under Tom Wilkinson. We know immediately that CEO’s Giamatti and Wilkinson hate each other as observed in cheeky slow-mo scuffle as played out in the opening credits.

The corporate war involves top secret information on a brand new revolutionary product that could change the world – you have to wait through oodles of plot layering before the nature of the product is revealed. But the movie makes it clear that Owen and Roberts are consenting lovers, or at least off-and-on lovers, and that they might be playing on the same side. Note the word might in relation to cooperation because with these two you never know.

They scheme to rip-off the company formula and sell it to the Swiss. But Owen and Roberts trust each other as much as Cary Grant trusted Rosalind Russell. Yes, their exchanges echoes 1940’s banter but their kissing echoes the sensual smooching of “Pretty Woman” which, of course, will forever be the movie that defined Julia Roberts.  There are plentiful shots with Owen with his shirt off and of Roberts’ nude backside (glimpse a half-concealed peekaboo but it’s probably a body double) and close-ups of her sumptuous lips – and the two of them show-off anything else that screams sex appeal, seduction, finesse and natural assets. Downside? The sex is never explicit.

Through a series of flashbacks we see the evolution of Owen and Roberts over the past two years amidst delectable backdrops of Rome, London, the Bahamas, Miami and Cleveland – and then back again in the corporate world of New York. The film uses nifty split-screens that assist as checkpoints to the story. As the episodes of past define the present, both Owen and Roberts never figure if they can trust each other because they are so virtuoso in the art of deception.

As part of the charade, Owen has to seduce a paleface but goosy 40-ish company travel agent in order to steal a clue or two out from under Wilkinson’s corporation. In some of the best acting of his career, Owen puts on a Tennessee accent and alternates between dork with glasses and hunk with roguish charm (actress Carrie Preston is the endearingly gullible mark).  Owen comes through in this movie that he could have played an excellent James Bond had he chosen it as a career direction.

Classic Roberts simply looks good always with her thousands of cascading curls and trademark dimples – not much of her exterior has changed in twenty years but now she’s got more bite as an actress.  At one point, sleek as ever, she’s the hottest thing to ever step into a bowling alley. (The bowling alley is perhaps the most non-descript location in a movie filled with highly glamorous locale snapshots and the fascinating dirty business of office snooping.)  Roberts always makes us believe that her intelligence and beauty places her automatically in charge of everybody else.

The movie’s problem it is that it is too clever by half.  Writer-director Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) likes knotty narratives with lots of twists-and-turns, but this time he goes overboard.  I got lost during the escapades in the Bahamas, and soon after the exhaustion seeps in. What did I like best about this movie? You got it. The sex appeal and the witty banter. And perhaps the slimy work by Giamatti and Wilkinson who reminded me of magnates Randolph and Mortimer in “Trading Places.”

125 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Trading Places” (1983); “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985); “House of Games” (1987); “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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