Ray Koval (Owen) used to work for MI6. Claire Stenwick (Roberts) was in the CIA. Now they’ve taken their spying skills into the corporate world to make some real money. It soon transpires they’re on opposite sides in a battle of pharmaceutical giants based in New York. Or are they actually on the same side? They also hate each other following an incident five years previously in which she left him for dead. Or are they in fact madly in love?
Duplicity has good-looking stars, exotic locations and on the surface is a slick Hollywood production. I’m absolutely sure this is going to be a big hit at the box office. However, even putting aside for a moment the fact that the sight of Julia Roberts on screen makes me want to gouge out my eyes with a grapefruit spoon, Duplicity isn’t half as smart as it thinks it is. One of the main problems is the characters played by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. Because they’re spies, they can’t trust anyone, right? And that even means each other, yeah? Because they’re spies. That’s who they are, that’s what they are and that’s all they know. There’s an episode of Friends where Joey and Chandler keep pretending to each other that something really bad happened and then revealing that they were only joking. After this happens a few times, Chandler says, “Ah, we could do this all day.” Crucially, the writers of Friends knew when to stop. Unfortunately, the writer and director Tony Gilroy doesn’t, so we get the same bickering over and over and over again.
Partly as a result of this, the film is at least half an hour too long, which is annoying because the most interesting performances come from Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, both of whom are underused. The dialogue, a few good moments aside, often feels forced while the plot attempts more twists than a Chubby Checker vs The Beatles dance-off but lacks the entertainment. It’s glossy and Owen is always watchable but it lacks charm and warmth and ends up feeling smug and self-satisfied. It’s not exciting enough to be a thriller or funny enough to be a comedy and ends up falling somewhere in between. Gilroy said he wanted to make an old-fashioned caper movie but if this is a caper, I think I prefer the ones served in a salad.