Duplicity (2009)

Director: Tony Gilroy
Julia RobertsClive OwenTom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti.

Plot: A pair of corporate spies who share a steamy past hook up to pull off the ultimate con job on their respective bosses.

Genre: Crime/Romance/Thriller
Awards: Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Lead Actress (Comedy/Musical)

Runtime: 125min
Rating: PG for language and some sexual content.


Writer-director Tony Gilroy’s second feature is a slight improvement over Michael Clayton (2007), an overrated corporate thriller with a star-studded cast. Here in Duplicity, Gilroy directs a film that is a hybrid of genres, a quirky, less serious spy thriller with elements of romanticism and screwball comedy. And yes, there is that corporate element to it as well. Gilroy is, no doubt, an excellent screenwriter, but when it comes to directing, he is less than stellar.

The film centers on two rival companies, headed by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti) respectively. Garsik acquires the services of an ex-M16 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) to uncover a secret formula for a product devised by Tully’s research department that would change the lives of people forever so that he could copy it and have a certain monopoly on the market. But Koval has plans of his own. He teams up with long-time fling and ex-CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) who works under Tully in a bid to earn a fortune by getting that formula for themselves.

There are some fabulous dialogue between Owen and Roberts. Although their screen chemistry is short of sizzling, they carry out their lines with aplomb; the intellectual banter and verbal mind games that the two leads play are engaging. Yet the best performance of the film goes to neither of them. It goes to Giamatti, who steals every scene he is in with over-the-top acting in a role that could land him a second supporting actor Oscar nomination. But that is very much unlikely for a summer release.

Duplicity has many twists and turns that are somewhat clever, but it never reaches a satisfying level of execution. The main problem here is the general pacing of the film. The frequent use of flashbacks is not quite necessary but if it is a must so as to further develop the lead characters, it should have been reduced to one long sequence preferably occurring near the beginning of the film. Here it is a messy intertwining of back-and-forth timelines which annoys more than it excites.

I like filmmakers who are creative with their work. For transition scenes, Gilroy employs the split-screen technique which not only is interesting to look at, it adds to the film’s quirky mood as well. For its entire maze of a narrative, one wonders if Duplicity would lose its ability to ‘surprise’ upon repeated viewings. The film has a wonderful story and an excellent script, but the whole is never greater than the sum of its parts. It has a number of delightful moments but with the film’s flawed (and uncomfortable) pacing, Gilroy never had a fair chance of a shot at delivering a picture that in years to come would still remain compulsively watchable.


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