How often these days does the great writer-director Billy Wilder come to mind during a modern movie? Pretty much never, so imagine my surprise when Tony Gilroy's Duplicity had me thinking of every film fan's favorite cranky Austrian-American. Gilroy's going for something a bit smoother and less eccentric than the average Wilder film, but the two have in common a crispness of writing and a willingness to bite the corporate hands that feed them.
Gilroy went after corporations in his drama Michael Clayton, and Duplicity is set in essentially the same terrain of corporate espionage. It's the tone that veers wildly, from the former film's appropriately dour feel to Duplicity's nimble comic banter. Like Wilder, Gilroy knows well enough to cast movie stars in his leads, from Michael Clayton's George Clooney to Duplicity's happy pairing of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, both at the top of their game. The film opens at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai on the Fourth of July in 2003. MI6 officer Ray Koval (Owen) gets rolled—in more ways than one—by CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts). Five years later, both have privatized, selling their skills to two opposed Proctor & Gamble-esque conglomerates: Burkett & Randle and Equikrom. Each company has a counterintelligence division tasked with figuring out what the other company's CEO has up his sleeve. The fine supporting cast finds Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti wittily portraying the rapacious CEOs, and Denis O'Hare, Tom McCarthy, Rick Worthy, and Kathleen Chalfant as the security experts working with Ray and/or Claire.
The twisty but perfectly comprehensible story makes stylish use of flashbacks and swanky locations in Rome, London, and the Bahamas (all lushly photographed by Robert Elswit) to convey the seductive jetset lifestyles the spies are laboring to secure for their retirement. The crux of the plot is whether or not the two are working together or at odds with each other when they reunite after their sexual but adversarial first encounter. The audience doesn't know, and neither do the characters, whose professional and romantic relationships are both hampered and charged by their mutual suspicion. The film's greatest pleasure is in the snappy dialogue Gilroy crafts for the capable duo of Roberts and Owen, whose delightfully sly performances prove equally effective in the odd wordless moment: a self-satisfied smile or look of dawning dismay. Character here (and Ray and Claire are effectively one mirrored character) is defined mostly through action, though the two spies share an outspoken sentiment that ought to go into the annals of romantic movie lines: "I know who you are, and I love you anyway."
Universal's Blu-ray hi-def transfer for Duplicity shows the usual care in recreating the theatrical experience: no added digital fiddling here. Rich color (with accurate flesh tones) and spot-on contrast enhance a mostly sharp and textured image. The modest but effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 boasts clarity in dialogue as well as subtle surround ambience, which proves especially nifty in distinguishing the local color of the various cities in which the characters find themselves.
Other than BD-Live (offering additional online content for players enabled with internet access), there's but one bonus feature. It's a good one, though: a feature commentary with writer/director Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy. The brothers Gilroy amiably talk us through the high points of the film's development and execution. It's handy to have John on hand to point out editing challenges and choices, and Tony naturally covers the bases about the script, production, and working with the actors.
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