With Duplicity, writer/director Tony Gilroy injects some fun in the espionage sub-genre, which he helped re-define in the ground breaking Bourne films.
Despite the presence of superstars Julia Roberts and Clive Owens, the real foundation of Duplicity lies in the fierce rivalry between pharmaceutical CEO’s Garsik (Paul Giamatti, all spit and fire), and Tully (an ice cold Tom Wilkinson). Gilroy brilliantly introduces the two by having them hilariously and sloppily duke it out in slow motion during the film’s opening credits.
Both men have their counter intelligence agents working overtime in a bid to infiltrate and out do the other. Among their operatives is former MI6 agent Ray (Clive Owen), and ex-CIA officer Claire (Julia Roberts), who have taken jobs in the corporate sector in order to rake in the big bucks after years of government loyalty.
Yet what no one knows is that the pair have actually hooked up years before, in a steamy encounter which left one drugged out on a hotel bed, and another escaping with the others high intelligence secrets. So, now firm enemies, working against each other seems a natural fit, right? Not if a romance starts to develop, leading to a partnership focused on screwing over their respective bosses and stealing a top secret product ready to set the pharmaceutical world on fire.
Problem is, reliance is not the strongest of qualities in this relationship, with plenty of screwing over in between actual screwing leaving much to be desired in terms of trust issues. This in turn leads us, the viewer, to constantly second guess the motives of these two espionage geniuses, a credit to Gilroy’s deft writing which always engages while entertains.
What Gilroy needed, and indeed got in Roberts and Owen, were two actors capable of delivering his acid tongued dialogue with authority, while providing plenty of charisma, and that old chestnut of chemistry. This is the second pairing between Roberts and Owen, after Mike Nichols Closer, and they are very comfortable playing off and with each other on screen, amping up their sex appeal with Roberts especially impressive in a seductive turn, and Owen his most relaxed in a career filled with tense thrillers.
Yet the real surprise here is here is Gilroy’s choice of tone, with Duplicity a light yet non breezy spy/heist movie which is very reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, from its split screen visuals, to James Newton Howard’s always constant and driving jazzy inspired score. It is an equally fun and tense movie, which will keep the audience guessing until the final credits.