Who would have thought high-stakes corporate espionage could be this exciting. When I phrase it like that though, it tends to sound like it ought to be. But it was director Tony Gilroy’s previous film Michael Clayton that put the terms ‘corporate politics’ and ‘thriller’ back in the same sentence. With 7 Academy Award nominations to show for it, there’s little wonder why he is back with a similar angle in Duplicity. However, in this endlessly deceptive caper tale, Gilroy is more inclined to mix business with heavy doses of pleasure than he was with Clayton. It’s certainly no worse to show for it; Duplicity is still a stylish, engaging and complex thriller, perhaps excessively so.
The labyrinth like tale begins in Dubai, where CIA Agent Claire seduces and drugs MI6 Agent Ray to steal intelligence, forming the basis of his mistrust that becomes the film’s motif. When the two cross paths again in Rome, they fall in love, and begin planning for a extensive con-job that will see them infiltrate the counter-intelligence agencies of two opposing corporations, each headed by a frenzied money mogul (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson). Claire and Ray’s target is formula for a new product that one of the companies has been secretly developing, which they believe to be worth $35 million. However, getting their hands on it without raising suspicion proves to be quite a challenge.
If anything, Gilroy’s screenplay is too smart for its own good, featuring more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan box set. In Duplicity, certainty is a rare luxury; apparently a double-cross isn’t nearly deceptive enough to suffice. Thankfully though, Gilroy doesn’t leave his audience completely disorientated; I often felt like I had a handle on the scenario, only later to find out that I too was being played. For this reason, Duplicity narrowly avoids frustration and remains an engaging roller-coaster ride, where the pay-off is worth the price of admission alone.
The only thing more dynamic than Gilyroy’s screenplay is his direction. During the opening credits, the fierce confrontation between rivals Giamatti and Wilkinson is played out in slow-motion, causing every string of saliva to fly across the screen like gravity has taken a holiday. From then on, the camera pans and tracks like it’s going out of fashion, providing the film with so much energy it practically bleeds from the screen. It’s refreshing to see a film manage to be so thrilling without ever featuring a firearm, not to mention the non-existent body count.
The star-studded cast give Duplicity extra zest. Clive Owen has made a career out of portraying James Bond without actually ever being in a 007 film. As a top MI-6 agent, roles don’t get much closer than this to the iconic spy, and Owen proves he’s got charm in spades. The rest of the cast is just as typecast as Owen, but who’s complaining? Giamatti and Wilkinson have proven time and time again that they can do the ‘angry boss’ act better than anyone, so why look elsewhere?
In fact, the only fish out of water is Julia Roberts as Agent Claire. Maybe her three youngsters have simply taken the life out of her, but Roberts doesn’t nearly have the onscreen presence here like she once did. I never really cared for her character, nor the outcome of her romance with Owen; their chemistry seems to exist when it is blatantly forced upon us during their many fiery embraces.
Yet it’s the corporate espionage that I came for, and that’s what Gilroy delivers…twofold.
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