Tuesday, August 25, 2009
DVD Review: Duplicity
Maybe Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) is too smart for his own good. In his latest film, Duplicity, he features Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, two of the screen’s sexiest stars, as corporate spies with a romantic history where they try to pull off the ultimate con. Despite this juicy premise, however, Gilroy gets so caught up in machinations of the con that he forgets the romance. Duplicity is a romantic comedy made without a romantic impulse.
Although Gilroy, who began writing screenplays for genre pictures like Delores Claiborne, Proof of Live and the Bourne movies, has a knack for sharp storytelling, he seems (as a director) to lack the instinct for good pop entertainment. He directs the material as if it’s beneath him. In Michael Clayton, his first directed picture, George Clooney portrayed Clayton, a “fixer” in a large corporate law firm in New York who tidies up messes made by clients and then circumvents any potentially damaging stories that could reflect badly on the firm. One day, his mentor Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has a breakdown handling a settlement suit for a large agrochemical company and threatens to rat out the client. Clayton is then brought in to silence his friend.
Although it's refreshing that Michael Clayton takes a different route than most conventional legal dramas like Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action, the picture doesn’t illuminate the core relationship between the litigators and clients. Moreover, it stretches credibility: Given his emotional condition, would Edens ever be given a case this sensitive to handle? Furthermore, as my friend Steve Vineberg smartly pointed out, Clayton seems in the end more upset that the company tried to kill him rather than caring about what they did to Edens. Clayton never really gets to develop a moral conscience. Tony Gilroy shows a gift for intelligent plotting in Michael Clayton, but seemingly little interest in the catharsis of drama.
Gilroy repeats the same mistakes in Duplicity – except this time he’s made a romantic comedy that lacks romanticism. The story begins with Ray Koval (Clive Owen), an MIB agent, who meets CIA operative Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) in Dubai. One night, she seduces him and then steals some classified documents in his possession. Years later, we see that Ray is now a corporate spy in New York who works for Equikrom, a consumer product corporation. He gets renunited with Claire while she's doing undercover counter-intelligence at a rival company. When her company announces a new major product development, we see that their meeting was not by chance. It turns out that they both plan to wait for an opportunity to cheat their companies and sell the secret to the highest bidder for their own gain.
Owen and Roberts match up beautifully here, but Gilroy doesn’t develop the heart of the story. Because of the nature of their jobs, the idea in Duplicity is that they can’t trust each other. So as they become more intimate, the more they want to trust each other, but can’t. We're to understand that duplicity works on both fronts: their work and their love life. But since Gilroy is less interested in the romantic charm of his performers, he muffles all the erotic sparks they give off. As well, Gilroy once again gets carried away with creating a dense plot, one filled with flashbacks and flashforwards just as he did in Michael Clayton. Before long, as the movie grows less coherent, you become less interested in it.
The point Gilroy seems to be making by the end is that corporations are too savvy to be taken by amateurs. Gee. What a profound downer. But its Gilroy whose the loser. He gets so caught up in the rouse that he fails to see that in Duplicity he’s conned the audience out of a good time.
Posted by Critics at Large at 2:51 PM