In an attempt to replicate old-style espionage movies, Duplicity marks Julia Roberts’ long-anticipated return to the silver screen. Telling the story of former CIA officer Claire Stenwick and her partner ex-MI6 agent Ray Koval, the pair attempt to out-con and out-smart the corporate world. After infiltrating two feuding companies racing to secure the rights to a product that will change the world forever, the stakes are high as Claire and Ray don’t only play the field but each other.
Described by the film’s producers as a “screwball comedy with the plot reversals of a classic caper”, sadly you’ll find most of Duplicity’s laughs in the trailer from a story that lacks pace. While the central distrust between the two loved-up spies plays off for the majority of the film, don’t expect a film nearly as deep as the narrative suggests with a love story that remains flat and uninspired. The plot touches on some interesting issues but Duplicity is not the right kind of movie to explore them in anywhere near enough detail, leaving the tension surface-bound and suspense somewhat empty.
For a self-acclaimed adventure story Duplicity sets off to a very slow start. In fact, it takes one and a half hours to put the ball through the hoop. Thankfully, the end is worth every dragging minute.
Owen’s performance is disarming and it’s good to see that he doesn’t take himself seriously all the time. The on-screen chemistry between him and Roberts is a joy to watch and the acting is very clean, very real, very raw with plenty of eye-twinkling moments between the two. Other characters don’t get enough screen time to show their talent but Kathleen Chalfant, who gets feuding company Omnikrom out of hairy situations as their “Jane-of-all-trades” Pam Frales, as well as Tom Wilkinson, show moments of brilliance.
Neither the directing nor the camera work deserve particular praise. Both are polished yet fail to produce a sense of urgency until half way through the movie. Director Tony Gilroy lets the audience run through a maze, only to hit the wall several times before finally getting them home. Paralleling the plot, he plays with the audience.
Despite its faults, Duplicity does get the message across. Roberts and Owen don’t miss a single beat, so for acting fans at least, it’s a must-see.