Jul 8, 2010

Duplicity: A Dynamic Duo Returns

Clive Owen and Julia Roberts chilled me to the bone playing a married couple in Closer. It was fun to see them in something a tad more lighthearted. There is certainly an on-screen chemistry between them, whether they are torturing one another or working a con together. In the end, the story was simple. Two people care about each other, but cannot be sure of the other's dependability. They work out their relationship against a backdrop of corporate intrigue, finally learning to rely on one another when all else fails.

The fabric of this film is cleverly woven; just different enough from other stories of the spy genre to be interesting and new, while carrying many hallmarks that gently lead the viewer to believe the protagonists will get what they want. In reality they are caught up in a much bigger scheme that hits them broadside. The filmmakers took their time putting all the pieces in place, making for a long movie that is fully enjoyable, to the very end.

I held off seeing Duplicity because my hubby described it as "not funny." I'm not sure why I expected it to be funny. I guess the trailer gave me that impression. For some reason, hearing it described as a "drama" turned me off. I'm sure some of my reluctance stemmed from negative associations with Closer. It is not an exaggeration to say that that movie traumatized the hell out of me. It was nearly as traumatic as Your Friends & Neighbors. Well, Duplicity was not funny, but it was nowhere near as dark and humorless as the two I just mentioned. Maybe "cute drama" would do it more justice than "drama". Since this is written and not spoken word, I am going to step out of the article for a brief moment and ask you to read the preceding sentence again. When you get to the word 'drama' read it as if you were making fun of a very melodramatic Shakespearean actor. Thanks. OK, I'm back.

Something I really liked about this movie were the unpredictable time jumps. The narrative skips back a few times to reveal the development of the protagonists' relationship, and in a few instances, doesn't explain the time frame at all until later. It threw me off a little, and lowered my guard, just enough so that I wasn't too frustrated, but having lost my foothold, I paid closer attention to the story right in front of me, instead of trying to figure out what was really happening (as I do when bored by the immediate). In this way, I was with the characters when the unexpected occurred. It is always refreshing when the heist blows up in the protagonist's face. Most of the time, the zany, likable thieves pull off an impossible plan and get away with tons of money (Oceans 11 and Inside Man come to mind, since they have the Julia Roberts and Clive Owen connection). I like it when the protagonists win, but sometimes I like it more when they lose. It is a nice change of pace when things fall apart.

In a way, the fantasy really works for the average Joe or Mary Jane movie-goer. Here are two smart and talented people who are very good at the kind of job we all think is super cool. But wait, they have issues, worries about finding work, doubts about their lovers; and they experience some calamitous disappointments, as we all do. Just because they are beautiful, doesn't mean they aren't vulnerable. I like this sort of fantasy; the sort where I get to relate to extremely intelligent, extremely good looking people (let's just gloss over the fact that in real life, a female spy from the CIA and a male spy from MI6 do not look like Julia Roberts or Clive Owen. They are much more likely to look like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War)  because they lose. I get the same perverse satisfaction from the Bible, when the disciples really really screw up. They were about as perfect as you can get at following Jesus and they did some bad stuff, so I must not be so bad, right? Clears throat. I do find it comforting that these two gifted people are struggling with relationship woes and money issues, just like me. For an added bonus, I could justify my own mundane success (let's face it; good marriages and happy children are not the stuff of blockbuster entertainment), as I observe the following alongside the on-screen couple: possessing great lying skills and talent at tricking people is actually a bad thing that taints their view of the world to the point that they can never know true security with another person, Ha! They say as much, every time they talk to each other. "Can we really do this? Are we ever going to trust each other? Are we still together? Maybe. Maybe?" They may be elite, clever, dashing, but those things don't kiss you goodbye on your way to work. And this is the vague lesson of which they catch a glimmer as everything else falls down around them; the idea they cling to when all their schemes and wits leave them high and dry. Never mind that they have been working together for two years under the assumption that they can be a couple, as long as they have all the earthly luxury money can buy. The money is what they partnered up to obtain. On the brink of getting their big payoff, they confess their love for one another and their determination to make it work despite their trust issues, but that declaration was before they realized they'd been duped. What do they do now? Do they start over? A new con? That could take years. Do they take a stab at suburbia? Things look grim, but they have each other, right? Maybe. All of these questions about where their relationship stands are implied by a slowly receding tracking shot that takes us away from them and to the credits.

Well, hubby was right. It is a drama; not funny, but fun. A cute drama.


  1. Tony Gilroy's first movie as a writer/director was Michael Clayton. There's so much to love about that movie: a great story, a great cast, surprising twists, colorful supporting characters, and an atmosphere of suspense punctuated by a bunch of non-distracting humor. Indeed, the humor kind of punched up the suspense and made me care more deeply about the characters. I really wanted to see Michael Clayton win!

    Tony Gilroy's second movie as a writer/director was Duplicity. I loved the opening sequence (slow-motion fight between Tom Wilkinson & Paul Giamatti), and I loved the early parts involving the choreographed arguments. I liked the frothy chemistry between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. I thought their relationship kind of outclassed and got in the way of the story, though.

    The movie's punchline-style ending demanded a complex setup, and that's the trouble: the tediousness of the setup is considerably greater than the satisfaction of the punchline.

  2. That was too well said to disagree. I thought the staged conversations were entertaining as well. Clive's and Julia's on-screen rapport makes the relationship stuff bearable.


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