Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are reunited from their last outing in the relationship drama Closer to an easier feel good vehicle as a pair of spies-turned-corporate operatives trying to nab good retirement money from the corporate world while rekindling a clandestine love affair. CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and MI6 agent Ray Koval (Owen) have left the world of government intelligence behind for a scheme to cash in on a highly profitable cold war raging between two rival multinational corporations. Their mission? Secure for themselves the formula to a product that will bring a fortune to the company that patents it first. For their employers – industry titan Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and buccaneer CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) – nothing is out of bounds in the race to get their hands on a chemical formula that will catapult the winner‘s company to the top of their industry. The battleground may be the cililised precincts of Park Avenue, but the conflict is just as deadly as any war zone. When the stakes rise, no one knows who is playing whom, and the trickiest part for Claire and Ray becomes how they play each other as each tries to stay one double-cross ahead. After his critically acclaimed 2007 directorial debut, Michael Clayton, writer/director Tony Gilroy returns to the arena of corporate dirty tricks mixing the dirty dealings of business boardrooms against the backdrop of two romantically challenged, strong-willed lovers who happen to be on either side of the corporate battle. The idea for Duplicity started with Gilroy’s fascination with the intricacies of industrial espionage gleaned during his years of research as the architect of the screenplays in the blockbuster Bourne franchise and how many people in the intelligence community eventually find themselves working in the private sector. With the statistics of corporate theft estimated somewhere between $50 and $100 billion every year, every major corporation operates a ‘competitive intelligence department’ with some form of either defensive or offensive intelligence gathering, also known as spy units. In Duplicity, Gilroy designed a cold war between two giant corporations in which the spies are trying to dupe their employers, as well as each other. He describes it as a place where “nobody ever tells the truth. Everybody’s gaming everybody; everything is constantly not what it seems.” When he created his main characters for Duplicity, Gilroy imagined the two lovers as unable to be honest about anything, especially their feelings.
Having made the leap from successful writer to successful director with Michael Clayton, the excellent corporate drama pitting George Clooney against legal reptile Tilda Swinton two years ago, Tony Gilroy’s ability to deliver convincing dialogue is way up there. Moving to the often challenging terrain of action comedy in Duplicity, he proves he still has a way with words – but maybe not quite so versatile at making a high score on the laugh meter. With the emotional centre of this heist movie the interplay of Roberts and Owen and their constant smart wordplay reminiscent of The Thomas Crown Affair, the fact that the story lacks an obvious villain does render the end result less that compulsive. While the two leads fire insults like bullets at each other, it does get a bit predictable halfway through. As perfect big business bad guys, Wilkinson and Giamatti are woefully underused and should really have been given more screen time. As to Roberts herself, missing from the screen for a few years to concentrate on motherhood, there’s no doubt she’s still amply fills the role as America’s Sweetheart and those lips and teeth are enough to keep her million-dollar paycheques coming through the recession. She does tend to overplay a role, though, and is saved on more than one occasion in Duplicity by Owen’s inherent cool. Overall, Duplicity is relaxed entertainment, something that goes down easy but won’t have you discussing it too long afterwards.