Review: 'Duplicity' is great entertainment, not great movie

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I feel like an "American Idol" judge when writing about the new film "Duplicity." I see myself clearing my throat and beginning: "Very good, very good, though it's clearly not your best work. I've seen you do much better. But safe to say, this was above average. You've got game. Now, you'll probably get a pass to the next round, but if you continue in this derivative style, people will stop caring about anything you do. Quickly."

"Duplicity" writer and director Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton") has made another film for adults. It's intelligent, well acted, somewhat intriguing, shot in anamorphic widescreen by Oscar winner Bob Elswit and just plain entertaining.

But it's also a bit light. A bit of a trifle. A grin. Unlike "Michael Clayton," where we followed George Clooney's character with bated breath, "Duplicity" never puts any characters at risk. Yes, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are always worried about getting caught, but the downside of being discovered doesn't seem to worry them and, in turn, never really worries the audience.

In fact, I'd say it's rather difficult trying to root for two people who work in sinister jobs at ultimately unimportant conglomerates; getting fired and sued by a corporation is uninteresting. And just because they're trying to game the system — with the same dirty tricks the conglomerates use — doesn't help.

Maybe if they were trying to game the system to benefit oppressed factory workers, or consumers from price gouging, we'd have cared more. But it's none of that. I'll assume the script was written two or more years ago when we citizens were more concerned about getting a piece of that pie than seeing big-shot executives being held accountable for their actions.

At bottom, it's hard to care if they love each other (I don't think the characters know if they do), it's hard to care about the corporate shenanigans, and it's hard to care who wins in the end.

Gilroy is known as a great writer, but he's also known for being difficult to work with. He wrote all three Matt Damon "Bourne" films and has publicly announced he will never again work with those directors.

Though he finally got to direct his own script in "Michael Clayton," he had high-powered producers making sure everything went well. Yes, he did it "his way," but he had a lot of help.

So with all his past films having made too much money to count, Universal Studios gave him free rein on "Duplicity." It will end up being his first miss. Go figure.

But as judging often goes, compared to the competition the best might not be great. "Duplicity" is a good film for adults and quite enjoyable. Roberts gives us her trademark toothy smile and belly laugh, and Clive Owen again does well as the likable, almost very handsome leading man. As for an evening out for 10 bucks, "Duplicity" is a bargain.

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