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Blu-ray Review: Duplicity (2009)

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Corporate espionage is not only a big-stakes game, but as the new Blu-ray release Duplicity (2009) points out, it can be great fun too. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), the film stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as a couple of former government espionage agents who have opted to turn private.

Roberts plays Claire Stenwick, a former CIA operative who, several years before the main events in the film, sleeps with Owen's Ray Koval, a British agent, in order to obtain some top secret info. It's a mission that goes perfectly well, right up until… upon their next meeting she falls desperately in love with Ray… or does she?

For his part, Ray spends the time between his first meeting with Claire and his second thinking about her and tracking her down (hence the second meeting). He too falls desperately in love with her… or does he?

Well, no matter, they both claim their love in semi-convincing fashion and hatch a plan to go private and explore a huge corporate espionage score. They proceed without any idea of what exactly they're going to steal or from who, but they figure that they want to live like rich people and will need about 40 million to do it right.

The film plays with time a lot, starting at the first encounter between Claire and Ray, jumping ahead to the present, and then jumping to the past from time to time to slowly fill in the gaps about their plan and how it came about. As the screenplay stands, the film would never work if it were told in a strictly linear fashion; there simply isn't enough that takes place to make that work.
Ultimately, the reason for that is that the film is as much about Claire and Ray's heist – which involves playing two drug companies and their ruthless CEOs, played brilliantly by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, against each other – as it is about the question of whether or not Claire and Ray really love each other, if they're even capable of loving another spy. Every time the question seems to get answered in the film, something happens which leaves it all open for debate again.

As for the corporate espionage side of things, Giamatti and Wilkinson spend a lot of time chewing the scenery in an hysterical fashion, but that side of the film never feels quite as well done as the possible-love story. The film only ever sticks to the surface of what is taking place in that arena, perhaps because if it went in-depth it would give the game away, and perhaps because Gilroy never quite worked out the details. Corporate espionage, except for the final heist, ends up coming off just as dull as one would expect it to be in real life.

Rather than being a great movie, Duplicity is only a good one, but it is a good movie filled with enjoyable performances. Roberts, Owens, Wilkinson, and Giamatti are all incredibly charismatic and make even potentially unlikable characters and despicable actions great fun to watch. Boiling it down to the most basic of analogies, Duplicity is a corporate espionage version of the recent Ocean's Eleven, but with a heist that doesn't work nearly as well.

The film does look and sound outstanding on Blu-ray. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is well-balanced and the sounds are all perfectly crisp. The music comes through beautifully, as does the dialogue. The video transfer is almost equally flawless, with differing locales being given different color palettes, and every color being rich and bold. The detail, too, is outstanding.

Far less outstanding are the extras, or, more accurately, extra, included on the disc. The only special feature is an audio commentary track featuring Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy. One doesn't even get the usual assortment of foolish deleted scenes and/or outtakes, and with the amount of fun that it appears was had on set by the actors, one has to assume that somewhere out there outtakes do exist.

Duplicity is a film which puts characters and their hidden motivations above plot in a not always terribly satisfying manner. The film is only as good as it is because the stars are as great as they are. It is a fun film which feels like it could have been a great film had as much time been spent developing a compelling heist as was spent developing compelling characters.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.