"Knight Thoughts" -
exclusive web content
Tony Gilroy brings back Julia, pairs her up with Clive but then over cooks his movie
Shaken But Not Stirring:
3-20-09 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
“Zip” is the name of the secret product that Doris Day and Richard Harris are after in Caprice, the last movie about corporate
espionage I can recall that used a highly coveted, top secret product as its framework. Now Tony Gilroy, writer and director of Michael
Clayton, uses it as the through line for Duplicity which reunites Julia Roberts and Clive Owen and gives Roberts her first real leading
role in years. The movie starts high, moves quickly, and is as densely plotted as Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, but like Caprice, it, too is
lacking that secret ingredient to give it that extra sparkle, that bounce it sorely lacks. In other words, it has no zip.
A hilarious credit sequence sets up the film – Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti play battling corporate execs, mortal enemies who
come to blows on the tarmac in front of their horrified Number Twos as their matching Lear jets nose in to each other. Then we get
to Roberts, who looks great, smiles her million watt smile and plays sexy-teasy with Owen, who has slimmed down, bulked up, and
looks smashing in the 60s “Mad Men” tailored suits and even more stunning strutting around in a bath towel. Their banter is great –
“I’m sorry, were we supposed to know one another?” she parries, “Definitely,” he thrusts back and we’re off and running in what
promises to be a sexy cat and mouse, Thomas Crown Affair style adult thriller (Gilroy even uses split screen, multiple image montage
effects ala the 1968 version of Thomas Crown).
Roberts and Owen both play former government spies with a one night stand in their history now working for the competing CEOs
trying to figure out what spectacular product the other is working on. They are supported in their efforts by a team of security
experts played by a crack team of actors mining laughs with their expertise (Denis O’Hare and Kathleen Chalfant are especially
good). There are a lot of time shifts in the movie as the plot twists and turns back on itself while Roberts, whose character is set up
as a modern day variation on Mata Hari, keeps tripping up Owen, who is presented as a good looking but not particularly bright
stud. The initial sex scenes between the two have real heat but because these two never really trust each other their intimacy starts
to wane. About the third time Roberts showed up Owen as a trusting fool I realized the movie’s fatal flaw – the two aren’t presented
as equals. She knows it, we know it and even he knows it. But unless we’re vested in seeing which one is going to come out on top,
what’s left? The cat and mouse games between Renee Russo and Pierce Brosnan in the Thomas Crown Affair remake were absolutely
sensational and the delight they took in testing each others wits and brains was a delightful turn on. Here, there’s no back and forth
because Roberts’ character is shown over and over again to be the superior intellect. There’s lots of steak between the two but no
And the complicated plot kept congratulating itself with new twists and turns that aren't all that clever (even I figured out who was
about to get duped at the fade out and I’m really bad at this kind of thing which I freely admit).
The movie is certainly entertaining and the performances are top drawer (though the look of the film – corporate steel grays and
blues doesn’t lend itself to an espionage comedy) but somewhere between that hilarious opening and the lame fade out Gilroy lost
his movie and the promise of fun and the end result is more shaken and less stirred – it shines but doesn’t sparkle. I can’t believe
I’m writing this in a dumbed down age at the movies but Duplicity is a film that’s too smart for its own good.