Espionage movies usually deal with state secrets and impeccably dressed spies; state secrets and dishevelled spies, or grim, dark corporate espionage. Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity harkens back to movies like Charade and North By Northwest, in which intelligence wit and charm are as important as guns. In fact, there are no guns in Duplicity.
Gilroy’s male and female leads – Ray Koval [Clive Owen] and Claire Stenwicke [Julia Roberts] – are, respectively, ex-MI6 and ex-CIA operatives now working in corporate espionage for two major companies and may [or may not] be trying to screw each other over as they try to figure out what major breakthrough might be about to make the news. The two corporations are run by old school titan of industry, Howard Tully [Tom Wilkinson] and Dick Garsik [Paul Giamatti], whose style is more piratical.
Duplicity demands a certain amount of attention to detail. The script is smart and filled with seeming double, triple and [potentially] quadruple-crosses. Literally none of the characters is stupid, and this time Gilroy pulls it off [unlike with Michael Clayton, where one brief moment of idiot plotting destroyed the whole film].
Owen and Roberts get to dish out some witty dialogue; develop a strange [and maybe false] relationship over the course of the film which is structured in both the past and the present – each arc developing chronologically until the very end, when there’s a revelation that makes sense even as it dumbfounds. Wilkinson and Giamatti give their usual excellent performances and Gilroy’s direction reminds of Stanley Donen [Charade]. He propels the film at a pace that only seems leisurely, and uses a four-way split screen to establish locations in much less time than might otherwise be needed.
The one thing about Duplicity that might have been better [and this is just a weird thought that I had during the closing credits] would be to have cast Giamatti and Wilkinson in each other’s roles. As it is, though, the film is grand, smart fun, and that makes it a winner.
Final Grade: A-