Film Review: Duplicity (Spoilers)

I can see why Ed Brubaker likes this. It could work effortlessly well as the next storyline in his ‘Criminal’ book with Icon/Marvel. Its noir tone radiates cool, the jumping around of timeframes is nicely literary and unconventional, and hey it has Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, teaming up again for the first time since ‘Closer‘. It’s a great premise, almost fixing the mistakes of Mr & Mrs Smith – can two spies who start out in competition with one another ever trust one another enough to find love? And particularly when they are out to pull off the caper of all time to finance their future together.

Trouble is rather than pulling off the semi-comedic cool of ‘Oceans Eleven’, writer-director Tony Gilroy doesn’t seem to know how to pitch this. A light-hearted tone is apparent at the start, yet the performances are downplayed, often unlikeable and dull. Why are these people doing what they’re doing? It’s frequently not even clear as you go along (which is frustrating), and because of that it needs the Owen/Roberts pairing to sparkle to keep the viewer’s interest. Except Roberts is almost in a different movie, and Owen, although engaging, is no George Clooney. It’s the exact same trap Gilroy fell into in the wonderfully written, yet equally ponderous ‘Michael Clayton‘, and even then Clooney was dull there too. Unlike that film, the final resolution here is extremely rewarding, as the flawed, unheroic players find themselves unexpectedly played (which also plays to Brubaker’s strengths), but you can’t help but be disappointed at not being able to read where either character really is coming from. On paper that would be electric – on screen it distances the viewer, when the tone of the film seems to ask for the exact opposite. Well-meaning without doubt, and I’d love to see Sean Phillips draw it, but ultimately as a film it’s confused about what it wants to be. Tony Gilroy is clearly a great writer, I’m less convinced about his directorial abilities. 6/10

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