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.