September 12, 2009


Duplicity, a romantic crime caper, reprises the duo of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts (from Mike Nichols’s Closer). Rarely have I seen a pair with more onscreen chemistry that is utilized so expertly and with such range. An unflinching portrait of two conmen (well, conman and conwoman) throughout their tribulations to strike it rich together at the expense of others, the plot is wrought with intrigue and unexpected twists. My review after the jump:

duplicity_movie_image_clove_owen__1_.jpgNow, generally, ‘unexpected twists’ is something featured prominently on DVD jackets and the back of B-level VHS sleeves but, in this instance, the attribute has been justly earned.

Duplicity is one hell of a movie. It doesn’t slow down for even a millisecond to hold your hand and explain to you what just happened. There is no reiteration and, for that, the movie moves at a blinding pace…a pace that I wasn’t expecting. A usual movie night for me is casual: I sink into my slumpy futon, grab a diet soda, and keep my laptop firmly planted beside me. Although I have trained rigorously in this configuration, even I -a veteran-, was unable to keep up this stance. And I tried. Honestly, I was trying to spite my boyfriend by paying as little attention to the film as possible.

And I couldn’t. The film was just too compelling.  Duplicity features a winding plot about corporate subterfuge that is manipulated on all sides. After an unlikely meeting in Cairo, two secret agents find themselves connected in the biggest conjob of all-love.

An alternate title for this movie could have easily been “Everybody Cons Everybody” as the film folds in on itself and shifts temporal space as it reveals conjob after conjob after conjob. The elements of this film, the concentric circles of confidence games and schemes, would otherwise seem contrived were it not for the marvelous character work of Roberts and Owen. They become likeable even though (and probably because) they don’t neatly fit the mold of protagonists. And as the cons progress and the story expands and contracts, their relationship becomes all the more intriguing. This film could have easily become a high-class variant on Wild Thing or lifeless like Intolerable Cruelty were it not for the character work of these and every actor on screen.

duplicity_movie_image_julia_roberts__clive_owen_l.jpgBut, for all of these successes: the script, the direction, the actors, the everything, this film was a box office failure. Making somewhere around 40 million dollars in the US on an 80 million dollar budget. But, for goodness’ sake, why? This film and those like it (Brothers Bloom, State of Play, Body of Lies) seem to be victim to a disturbing new trend in theaters: no one goes to see them. Despite a marketing push, A-list directors, A-list actors, and an all-around high quality, these theaters remain vacant and languishing.

The populace seems to have turned instead towards big, hulking, dumb movies. Not to be an alarmist about this: Duplicity was bound to have a cap on its revenue anyway because of just how demanding it is on the viewer. A movie that was, ostensibly, positioned as a romantic comedy lacks the all-important, date night quality of being able to make-out through a good 3/4ths of it and still follow. Remember, even with years of experience, I was still quite unable to catch up on my blog-reading while watching this film. And maybe, just maybe that’s a good thing.

duplicity_movie_image_julia_roberts.jpgI’m rooting for more movies like this to be released and received more warmly than its predecessors. It’s been years since I’ve been more engaged and as challenged by a film and I, for one, liked it. Good for a movie night among fellow film geeks, not so great if you want to get frisky during it, this is one film I’ll be watching again in the near future (though, this time, I won’t even bother with my computer).

Special Features:

A director’s commentary rounds off this DVD-nothing earth-shattering or especially moving here.

The DVD:

Irritatingly long opening menu sequence that is almost-if-not-as annoying as my recent run-in with the Little Shop of Horrors (1986) DVD menu. Otherwise, standard. The DVD case lacks any real zazz but, after some thought, I realized that there wasn’t really anything showy they could put on the box. The film’s only action sequence is a search for a copy machine that is aided by a telephone calls… so there’s that.

The Movie: A

The DVD: C

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