Wondering where those corporate earnings have been going to all these years? According to Tony Gilroy’s “Duplicity,” a whole lot of ‘em have been pumped into some pretty nifty espionage, casting a suspicious eye not just on the other guy, but on a few insiders, too. His duplicitous script brings us into the game, also: as the plot bounces from year to year, we, the audience could be just as played as are the players on the screen.
And what players they are: Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, in her first leading role in several years, play the spys who’re as sly as they are sexy. Meeting cute (it has to do with a deal gone haywire), the international veterans can’t deny their erotic attraction. Assuming that means they’re in love, off they plunge into a complicated set up that not only could pay off big time, if they can, considering their inherent suspicious natures, trust each other enough to see it through. The always wonderful Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson serve up dandy support as the business bigwigs whose hatred for one another just may keep their eyes off the real prize.
Gilroy, who wrote and directed, is no stranger to this genre: his Michael Clayton and scripts for the Bourne series offered up snappy, smart insights into the workings of complex business as well as some pretty neat spy stuff. And, while his male archtypes are impressively textured, his female characters are usually nicely drawn, too: remember Dolores Claiborne? So, it’s no surprise Gilroy has created for Roberts a role worth leaving the house to play. Her Claire is a clear headed professional, a woman with a plan and she’s intent on carrying it out. Things may not always go as planned, but Claire is no fool: at least she doesn’t think so. Her self confidence, and the fact that she looks damned good in a trench coat, makes this one woman anyone over the age of twelve can enjoy. Of course, Roberts makes the most of this opportunity. Even in her more recent supporting turns, like in Charlie Wilson’s War and Ocean’s Twelve, the formerly pretty woman has made, it seems, a conscious decision to grow into an interesting woman. Who, it should be noted, is still very pretty. Good for her: and good for the movies. With track records like this, who knows? Maybe we’ll see even more opportunities for actresses of “a certain age” to play the leads in big budget entertainments? Speaking of which, where’s Renee Russo been lately? Can’t somebody write something fun for her?
Ah, but I digress. This caper is really about Julia and Clive. Or is it? As the plot kept thickening, and the tides kept turning, and as I found myself becoming a little too aware that the story line might be too clever for its own good, I also found myself wondering: what would have this movie felt like had the two spys been played by, say Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey? Or even the former Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? The honest, easy affection that these real life couples brought to the screen could have made this smarty pants story a bit more fun. As it stands, this is an entertaining movie for adults, nothing that pierces the fourth wall of the screen and makes it truly memorable. But, what the heck: these days, a good entertaining movie for adults is a most welcome diversion.