Starring: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson & Paul
Director: Tony Gilroy
If you know your con-game movies, then you're familiar with the differences between short cons and long cons. The short con is all about making a quick buck -- like getting a bartender to give you change for a 20, when you really paid with a 10. Long cons, on the other hand, require months, if not years, of setup, and come with a payoff to match. They also make for timeless movies like The Sting, The Grifters, House of Games, and Tony Gilroy's Duplicity. Like those other time-tested con movies, Duplicity is about more than just lying, deceit, and trickery -- the story's mind games also serve as a metaphor for bigger issues -- in this case, love. In the opening scene, Ray Koval (Clive Owen) seduces Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) at a cocktail party thrown by the government of Dubai. Their passionate night together ends with him drugged, and her taking pictures of some sensitive documents in his possession -- and thus begins a most unusual courtship between people who inherently mistrust everyone around them. It would be just plain wrong to reveal much more about the plot, but years later, the two end up on opposite sides of some serious corporate espionage, and their time together in the past has more of an effect on their present than anyone -- the characters or the audience -- really understands.
Tony Gilroy proved that he could fashion an airtight thriller with Michael Clayton, and he's done it again here. The complex plot never confuses viewers -- you always know where you are in the story. And even if, at a given moment, you don't know why characters are having the same word-for-word conversation in totally different times and places, you can trust it will all make sense in the end.
In addition to creating a brain-twisting thriller full of double agents and triple crosses,Gilroy also makes Duplicity a credible romantic comedy at the same time thanks to dialogue that sparkles with humor -- the kind of dialogue actors kill to say. Clive Owen knows how to deliver a laugh line, and he gets more than his fair share of them, but it's his ability to charm his victims -- he makes it seem like it's fun to be lied to -- that makes him ideally suited for the part. And while we're on the subject of charm, Julia Roberts can still flash that 1,000-watt smile, but she's also grown into a more confident actress, able to play cold and calculating just as effortlessly as she can warm and charming. Together, they make a smart and sexy pair, entirely different from their battling lovers in Closer. While Owen andRoberts may anchor the movie, the whole cast gets to have fun, especially Tom Wilkinsonand Paul Giamatti as feuding corporate CEOs. Their first confrontation makes for a hysterically funny opening credit sequence. Wilkinson gives his business tycoon a know-it-all smugness that conflicts hilariously with Giamatti's paranoid and angry character -- he's half Gordon Gekko and half Donald Duck. And Carrie Preston steals her few scenes as a corporate travel planner who falls for all of Ray's considerable charms. But, however strong the acting is, Tony Gilroy deserves the lion's share of credit for making such a delightful movie. His writing and direction find the perfect balance of comedy, sexiness, and tension. The con-game elements may drive the story, but it's the romantic comedy that givesDuplicity heart and soul. (125 mins.)
My Rating: ***