Tony Gilroy is one of Hollywood's sharpest script writers. With the Bourne trilogy, and last year's excellent Oscar nominated Michael Clayton, he has proven that he knows what he's doing when it comes to combining whip-sharp dialogue with a complex yet entirely understandable plot. And Duplicity is no different: a highly enjoyable, creatively complex piece of intelligent entertainment.
Clive Owen and Julia Roberts play ex-MI6 and ex-CIA operatives, respectively, who set in motion a plan to rip off their new bosses who are at corporate war with one another. But an on and off steamy relationship between the two, along with their tendency to deceive not only everyone around but also each other, puts everything into question.
When you boil Duplicity down to it's core elements, it could very well be seen as a generic spy thriller. But Gilroy, who not only writes but directs here, chooses to go in an entirely different and ultimately fun direction. Instead of showing things unfold in chronological order, Gilroy tells this story by jumping back and forth in time, playing around with audience expectations. Once the film settles into this unpredictable style, which does take about ten minutes or so, it's a heck of a lot of fun to try and keep up with.
But despite the film always being a step or two ahead of the audience, it never feels irritating or too bothersome. This is a smart film, and it knows it. It never gets so far ahead that things become incomprehensible, but just enough so that it feels playful, energetic, and, above all, engaging. From the first couple of scenes on, Duplicity is completely attention grabbing; just as you settle into one scene, the film whisks you off to another time or place forcing you to give it your utmost attention again.
Gilroy quite skilfully marries great scalpel-sharp dialogue with a creatively complex storyline. But he never has one without having the other in mind; there may be a full five-minute long scene of just dialogue bouncing back and forth between Roberts and Owen, but it's never just to fill up time. The dialogue feels entirely warranted, and sometimes even more welcomed than the story that it occupies. Owen and Roberts are first class professionals, and even when it's just those two on-screen playing off of one another by way of Gilroy's fantastically-written dialogue, it's as entertaining as anything you're likely to find in cinemas this year.
Playing the two rivalling corporate men are Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. Wilkinson's screen time is only about a third Giamatti's, but there's a reason for that, which thankfully becomes clear towards the end of the film. As always, the two are pretty damn brilliant; both are fantastic actors that rarely, if ever, let down on the acting front. Giamatti brings his usual short-tempered, yet charismatic, persona, and Wilkinson delivers his lines in a way that reflects his decades of experience.
As I have said already, the film is complex but in a creative way. In the hands of a less savvy writer/director, the complicated plot may have made for one hell of a confusing movie. But Gilroy knows what he's doing with what is, after all, his material, making the a layered plot work fantastically on-screen. It unfolds unconventionally, compared to similar films; just when you think you've figured it all out, the film pulls the rug out from under you and puts you back into a state of trying to keep up with what's going on. Who's working for who? Is she scamming him? Is he scamming her? Or is it not as simple as that? All is revealed by the end in an entirely satisfying way, but not until then, will you be able to figure out the big picture in its entirety.
Roberts and Owen reunite for the first time since their fantastic performances in Closer, where sexual tension and relationship problems were at the forefront of their shared scenes. Here they are given something lighter to work with, and the reason it's fun to watch as an audience member is because you can tell the two, as actors, are having so much fun with the whole thing themselves. The chemistry they had in Closer continues here, solidifying them as an acting team who work well together. They should continue to be entertaining to watch in any future films they do together.
Duplicity is a film very reminiscent of the Ocean's series; smart, fun, entertaining and wholly comprehensible despite the extremely complex and layered plot. And like that series, Duplicity mixes brilliantly sharp dialogue with a guessing-game type storyline, and it does so in an extremely entertaining fashion. Although a little on the long side for this type of thriller, it strangely never feels tiresome or dragged out. This marks the second film directed by Gilroy, and if this and his first, Michael Clayton are anything to go by, he has quite a career ahead of him, combining both his directing and writing efforts.