I love a good mystery, a good whodunit. “Capers”, they used to call them. What I like even more are movies where nothing is what it seems and nothing ends the way that the audience thinks that it will end. Remember the first time you saw The Sixth Sense? We were all blown away when it was revealed that Dr. Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis, had been dead from the start of the film. However, if we had paid attention there were clues throughout the film pointing to the fact. All we had to do was pay attention. How about The Sting? Remember what it was like when you realized at then end of the film that Newman and Redford also stung the audience?
Duplicity seemed like it was going to be one of those movies. Just the name, Duplicity, tells the audiences that things are not going to be what they seem. The director, Tony Gilroy, does a good job leading viewers through the world of corporate spies whose job is to steal secrets from competing companies, at the same time protecting their own secrets.
The story revolves around corporate spies Ray Koval and Claire Stenwick, convincingly played by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. Koval and Stenwick have a plan to steal a secret formula for their boss, Richard Garsick (Paul Giamatti), from a rival company owned by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). However, they never intend on turning anything over to Garsik. Their plan is to sell the secret formula to the highest bidder.
This is where things get tricky in the movie. We can never be sure if either party is being honest. There are enough hints that Claire might be trying to screw Ray out of the formula and the big payday. There are also enough hints that Ray may throw Claire under the proverbial bus to protect his own hide. Because they never know when the other one can be trusted, the audience is left guessing which one will screw the other one first.
For the duration of the movie, there is a build up to the conclusion where our suspicions are either going to be proven correct or there is a twist that we missed along the way. What we get is far from the ending that anyone expected. And not in a good way.
It turns out that there never was a formula. Tully set up the whole thing, from the beginning, to screw over Garsik. There is no way we could have known this though. There were no hints, clues, or signals that Tully had someone in Garsik’s company. How were supposed to know that there was a camera in Koval and Stenwik’s secret apartment?
This is Duplicity’s greatest failure. It would have been a great ending to a great movie, but there were no clues or hints that the people being duped were Koval, Stenwick, Garsick, and the audience. There was a chance to turn this movie into one of the classic what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get films, a movie that people would have talked about with friends. However, we have to learn that Tully had orchestrated everything through a montage of flashback scenes.
Should we have been on the scam that was being pulled? No, half the fun of this kind of movie is learning that we got scammed, too. Should we have had some clues? Some hints? Yes. The other half of the fun is knowing that, had we paid attention, we may have caught on to what was really going on. The viewer should have gotten that “ah ha” moment, but we were cheated out of it.
I expected something more than a clichéd technique from a director who’s last film, Michael Clayton, was one of the best films of 2007.When directors pull this stunt, “this” is what really happened, but we just didn’t show “you” stunt, it says to the audience that they are not smart enough to figure things out if it was presented in another way.
However, this one flaw doesn’t warrant the banning of Duplicity from your DVD player. Far from it. Duplicity is a good film if we set aside the fact that Gilroy wanted to make a cute film with a twist and look at the film as a romance. Yes, a romance. At its heart, Duplicity is really nothing more than a romance.
In the process of stealing the formula, Ray and Claire learn to love each other for who they are and, more importantly, they learn to trust each other. As anyone that has been married can tell you,a relationship, for all its ups and downs, is about trust.
At the end of the film, when they don’t have anything to show for their efforts, they still have each other. Really, what’s more romantic than a couple that has been through the ringer and has come out stronger on the other side? At the end of the film, when Ray and Claire are holding hands, we know that if they decide to pull another scam things will be different.
Duplicity also has major acting talent among the principle players. There are seven Oscar nominations and one win among the four actors.
Clive Owen has always been a natural on the screen. That’s one of the great thing about Owen- what you see is what you get. It’s almost as if he’s not acting, that he’s a little bit of every character that he has ever played. I don’t know the man personally, but I think that if I ever had a chance to sit down with Mr. Owen (it would only be Clive after he asked me to call him Clive. My mother taught me some manners) for a pint, I would be just as comfortable with him as if I was sitting down with an old friend.
I’ll have to admit that I am not the biggest Julia Roberts fan on the planet. Had it not been for the fact that I went with friends and had no transportation, I would have walked out on Pretty Woman. I thought that Pretty Woman II: The Runaway Bride (yes, I know that’s not the real title, but it might as well be) was colossal waste of time. I didn’t buy her as the trailer park, legal aid Erin Brockovich. And yes, I know she won an Oscar for that role, but that’s not saying too much because Halle Barry has one.
When Roberts tries to carry a movie on her own is when I think her weakness, as an actress, is notable. However, it’s roles like the ones in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Ocean’s 11 where she is not the star, but plays off the other cast members that Roberts is at her best. Roberts is phenomenal playing against Clive Owen’s everyman persona. The two bring a realistic and believable chemistry to the movie.
For my money, you will not see a better actor than Paul Giamatti. He’s come a long way from the blink-and-you-miss-him performances in movies like Saving Private Ryan and movies that are below his talent, like Big Momma’s House. What other actor, besides John Malkovich, can say they had a movie written for them where the character they play is themselves? Even when the movie is bad (Shoot ‘em Up), he never fails to give a less than stellar performance.
Tom Wilkinson may not be familiar to most American audiences, but he should be. He’s on my list “You Know the Face, but Not the Name.” If you didn’t see Valkyrie, there is a good chance that you may have seen him in RocknRolla or his Oscar-nominated performance for In the Bedroom. But, how could any one forget him in Batman Begins? A supporting actor’s job is to make the star of the movie look good. It’s often the case that Wilkinson makes them look bad only because he is such an incredible actor.
Rent Duplicity for the great acting, but stay for the romance. Watch it with that special someone in your life. You won’t regret a moment.