*½/**** Image B Sound A- Commentary B+
starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti
written and directed by Tony Gilroy
by Walter Chaw Tony Gilroy's droll, deadly dull Duplicity is the kind of movie Cary Grant made in the Sixties: wheel the old dear out in a nice suit and have him recite reams of dialogue to some woman in various scenic locales. It's not an elderly movie, it just seems that way. The "some woman" in this scenario is Julia Roberts (fresh from Maria Shriver's face-sharpener), making her umpteenth triumphant return to the silver screen on the sloping, mopey, rumpled, shoulders of fading A-lister Clive Owen, who apparently can't say "no" lately to would-be prestige pictures abandoned in the doldrums of the first part of the year.
Duplicity works itself out as another Ocean's sequel where double-cross is heaped on double-cross in configurations terribly pleased with themselves. It's so busy being clever that it doesn't matter that there's no discernible chemistry between Undercover Blues/Doug Liman's Mr. & Mrs. Smith/"Hart to Hart" corporate-spook duo Ray (Owen) and Claire (Roberts)--so busy being clever that it doesn't matter that nobody cares. Outlining the plot a fairly useless pursuit, sufficed to say that CEOs Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Garsik (Paul Giamatti) are embroiled in a bitter product-development war, with Ray and Claire the sparring foot soldiers who happen to be (literally) in bed together. Told in overlapping flashbacks and not-stunning crash surprises (not stunning not because they're not stunning but because, as you may remember, nobody cares), the picture will frequently break into visual quadrants in an affectation more smug than dexterous, leading one to speculate that the MacGuffin isn't the picture's miracle skin cream, but the movie itself. Its style is its substance and there is no substance beyond the message that a film called "Duplicity" is concerned about how nobody can trust anybody. As revelations go, it's "Doubt" with fewer Catholics.
What Duplicity does best is highlight that whatever Roberts's appeal once upon a time, it was never predicated on her quickness and adroitness. (Ditto Owen, alas, leaving all that screwball patter in the hands of gaunt coathangers with predictably sterile results.) It's telling that Roberts's two best scenes are ones in which she sits absolutely stone-still, staring silent and empty-eyed in the vague direction of first the fabulous Carrie Preston (as a wronged travel agent), then the slumming Wilkinson. It's not a puzzle because it doesn't come with all the pieces; it's not a comedy because it's not funny; and it's not a romance because it's not romantic. It doesn't have any insight into the lies people tell each other, because it's about spies who tell lies for a living--and it doesn't matter who's the fucker and who's the fuckee, because the real victim is the audience for sticking its collective legs up in the air for two hours while glancing surreptitiously at the clock. Curious that Gilroy should have a peculiar bug up his ass for corporate shenanigans and that this artistic hyper-vigilance has transposed itself into the movie equivalents of that subject you shouldn't broach with the old guys at the Starbucks. Maybe it's the self-righteousness of someone discussing at windy length deep dark secrets that aren't secret to anyone (and, brought to light, aren't the least bit interesting, either) that deflated Gilroy's Michael Clayton and now deflates Duplicity. A running gag involving Ray's obsessive fascination with the high-stakes game of innovating frozen-pizza toppings is the only aspect of the piece that feels self-aware: look at how tiresome this asshole is when he talks about competing frozen-pizza companies spying on one another! No kidding.
Perhaps Gilroy is suggesting that Duplicity is about what it isn't about because it's really about two long-in-the-tooth stars doing their best to shine in a glitzy smarm-o-rama. (It's Titanic for the over-the-hill gang.) Swoon as CIA agent Claire tastefully waltzes uglies with MI6 operative Ray in a cunning resurrection of pre-resuscitation James Bond (there's even a Baccarat scene); it takes a little doing to make Closer, Owen's previous pairing with Roberts, appear sprightly and youthful, just as it's hard to invest in the maturity of a film that punctuates most of its dialogues with tantrums and moping--with much of its late intrigue hinging on jejune sexual jealousy and riffy pitter-pat. (And, hey, is that an outtake smirk that closes the film?) The picture is as musty as the film-within-a-film in The Purple Rose of Cairo, some lonely spinster's idea of love on the run in travelogue locales, some middlebrow concept of wit and audacity. A better movie along fairly similar lines with less rust on its bucket? Sexier, smarter, better-performed, more self-aware by half, more aware of the conventions of the (then-nascent) romcom genre, more insouciant, swifter, better-edited, better-written, better-directed, slicker, thornier, naughtier, and, at its end, more romantic? Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, turning seventy-seven this year. Originally published: March 20, 2009.
by Bill Chambers Because the Canadian arm of Universal Home Video hasn't quite got around to joining the 21st century, we're stuck reviewing Duplicity on DVD instead of Blu-ray. And judging this presentation proved difficult: it's been so long since I viewed a contemporary release on the format that I've lost a sense of relativity. The 2.40:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer looks soft to me, but as the picture was shot anamorphically, a certain degree of softness is the order of the day. Still, I could tell the image was falling well short of HD in a shot of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts overlooking a solid blue blob that's allegedly a sun-dappled lake but has sacrificed its dapples to the vagaries of compression and NTSC. Colours are vibrant, yet the palette seems ineffably hamstrung, while shadow detail is indistinct and the natural film grain sometimes produces an undesirable mottled effect. I probably sound snobby, but once you go "blu" there's no coming back. Less noticeably problematic is the lossy DD 5.1 audio, the mix growing more enveloping in concert with the plot.
The only extra--save a pre-menu block of 4:3 letterbox previews for Bring It On: Fight to the Finish, State of Play, Mamma Mia!, "Psych", Fighting, and, how aggravating, the studio's BD slate--is a feature-length commentary with writer-director Tony Gilroy and his brother, producer/editor John Gilroy. It's a chatty session in which we learn that Stevens Soderbergh and Spielberg were both once attached to direct Duplicity (the latter commissioning the Dubai-set prologue during his brief tenure on the film) along with David Fincher; the notoriously prickly Tony's façade of cool slips only briefly for a rail against "fanboy, chatroom horseshit" in his effort to pre-empt criticism of a late-film story development--and if he thinks fanboys in chatrooms are talking about Duplicity, of all things, then it really is Tony Gilroy's world, and we just live in it. Also, though Tony calls it a "Digital Interpositive" in a discussion about colour-timing, I'm pretty sure that D.I. stands for "Digital Intermediate." Originally published: August 24, 2009.