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.

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