Sunday, March 29, 2009

Duplicity: Nobody Trusts Anybody

The trailers for Duplicity initially positioned it as a super-serious spy movie. Then they had a run suggesting it was a romantic comedy. This dichotomy may have something to do with its tepid reception, because even while there's an overlap in the audiences, there's not much overlap in the urge.

That is, people don't think "Oh, I want to see Sleepless In Seattle--but I guess The Osterman Weekend is just as good." I mean, you might be in the mood for either, or both, but a strong urge to view one genre just isn't going to be satisfied by a movie in the other genre.

This is, however, a romantic-comedy/spy movie. Though a little light on the comedy and more a caper flick.

The premise is that Clive "And Just When Everything Was Going So Well" Owen and Julia "They're Called Boobs, Ed" Roberts are corporate spies who are managing a convoluted caper while trying to build a relationship.

Well, look, I've been bitching about how Romantic Comedies have gone from the struggle of two independent, strong-willed people to find a way to cohabitate, to being about neurotic women pursued by persistent and apparently not very bright men. So, I guess we have a compromise: Duplicity is about two, independent, strong-willed and neurotic people trying to find a way to cohabitate.

It works, sort of. The plot centers around a mysterious product that one company has and another company wants, and the revelation of that MacGuffin was pretty funny. The corporate spy angle makes it possible for the movie to be lighter than a traditional spy-game movie would be.

The narrative ping-pongs between current day and progressive flashbacks, and somehow I missed the first flashback cue, so I got a bit confused at first. But the plot's actually pretty straightforward despite the other plot (the one the two are hatching) being ridiculously complex.

Naturally, The Boy and I were more intrigued by the business aspect of corporate spying, and with the two CEOs being played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, the Owen-Roberts relationship seemed a little...less so. (Giamatti is at his scene-chewing best while Wilkinson's role is unfortunately tiny; you could see a really fun movie being made out of their relationship.)

I don't think this is entirely a testosterone issue. These two characters are not very sympathetic. They constantly test and mess with each other, which they simultaneously seem to enjoy and revile. It's a difficult task and writer/director Tony Gilroy (screenwriter for the Bourne series) doesn't quite pull it off.

Normally, in a caper movie, you want the guys pulling the caper to succeed. (It's a bit perverse, but we don't expect movies to teach a moral lesson, do we?) And normally, in a RomCom, you want the two protagnoists to get together. This was not especially the case here. (And I give Gilroy credit for not making the ending too pat.) The whole thing ends up feeling a bit overly intellectual (Bourne has this in parts, too, I think) and unfocused.

I'm not a Julia Roberts fan, particularly--I find her looks distracting rather than engaging--but I thought she brought some warmth to the role, even though there wasn't much room for it. I am sort of a Clive Own fan, but there was no room at all to gauge whether his charm had any genuine affection to it.

You can see why this undermines the romantic-comedy part; it also really undermines the caper part. And the whole thing ends up feeling overlong.

A shame, really.


  1. Interesting that you mentioned this was first advertised as a serious spy thriller type movie. I was confused by the new trailers, and thought this was a different movie!

    Nice review. And ha! Somehow I didn't see you as a Julia Roberts fan, so I was right about that. :)

  2. Thanks for saving me two precious hours of a date night!

  3. Darcy -- Yeah, I knew it was the same movie and I was still confused.

    Ruth Anne -- This is soooo not a date-night move.

    That line "Nobody trusts anybody" is said by Owen to Roberts (or is it vice-versa?) They treat each other horribly.

    That may be another reason the romcom part doesn't really work: There's no reason to believe, at the end of the movie, that these two could actually have a successful relationship.

  4. My favorite spy movie is The Killer Elite with James Caan and Gig Young.

    Gig Young. Man he was the saddest looking actor I ever saw. An accident waiting to happen.

  5. Oh and I hate Julia Roberts. I only spare her some mockery because Sarah Jessica Parker uses up all my horse face jokes.

  6. Well, I'm not really a good judge, since I've never been a fan of her looks, but if it's true that women have to choose between their asses and their faces, it's really clear which she chose, and I'm not sure it was the best choice to make.

    OTOH, most women aren't playing leading ladies at 42, so she's got that going for her.

    Owen's looking great. Doesn't look 47 at all.

  7. but if it's true that women have to choose between their asses and their faces

    So at some point Kim Kardasian will look like the Wicked Witch of the West...with an ass that could anchor a boat. Thanks for that image!

  8. I'm sorry, the Bit Maelstrom can't be held responsible for third party imagery.

    It just looks like Ms. Roberts is going for the ultra-lean look and I think that's probably the wrong way to go. Maybe it was just her hair or even just her character, but she was looking pretty severe.

    Now I'm sort of curious how Darcy figured I wasn't a fan, tho'....

  9. I'm so over Julia Roberts. "Erin Brokovich" has to be one of the most overrated movies with the most overrated performance ever.

  10. I am with you knox. I never like her and all of her movies suck. I mean why was she so sucessful and a tasty piece of meat like Ellen Barkin had to scuffle for roles here and there.


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