I really should have known better.
The On Demand thumbnail sketch for “Duplicity” read, “This smartly-paced thriller, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as longtime lovers and corporate spies who team up to stage an elaborate con to rip off their rival companies.” With a promo like that, how good could it be? But Susie wanted to watch a movie, and I was happy to watch something besides HGTV, and as Pope reminds us, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
Briefly, “Duplicity” is about two spies, Ray Koval (Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Roberts). In the opening scene, which takes place five years ago in Dubai, they meet at an Independence Day celebration, and we are treated to the first of many verbal fencing matches. They spend the night together (how did that happen?) after which Claire drugs Ray and steals secret documents, an act of duplicity that sows seeds of mistrust and suspicion that permeate the whole movie.
Eventually, Ray and Claire leave their government posts to enter the high-stakes world of corporate espionage. They conspire to defraud their respective employers and sell corporate secrets to the highest bidder. Along the way, there’s more verbal fencing and – it must be admitted – one truly suspenseful scene in which Claire must find a copier and transmit a document before she and the document are both discovered missing.
Sadly, this is the best scene in the movie.
“Duplicity” typifies everything I dislike about mainstream Hollywood movies today. Like so many films that come out of Hollywood, “Duplicity” began not as an artist’s dream, but as a moneymaking scheme. The stars were cast not according to their talent or suitability for their roles, but according to their star power. This is not meant as a criticism of Julia Roberts; I thought she was excellent in her early movies. But an actor of her stature needs to choose her roles carefully, if for no other reason than not to overwhelm the role – and perhaps the movie – with her mere presence.
The primary fault in “Duplicity” lies not with the acting or direction, but with the writing. It is long on plot twists, and short on characterization. We cannot identify with the protagonists, because as they are written, we have nothing in common with them. Saddest of all, we are never able to enjoy the love affair between Ray and Claire because we can never escape the suspicion that one is playing the other for his or her own selfish ends.
I recommend this movie only for those Julia Roberts fans who are bound and determined to see every one of her movies. The rest of us would do better to pop some popcorn, sit back, and watch an old favorite.