Saturday, April 11, 2009
The recent New Yorker piece on Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy celebrated Gilroy's love of "reversals," those moments in a movie when your understanding of what you're watching is completely inverted. Gilroy's script for Michael Clayton was a tasting menu compared to his Duplicity, which takes bluffs and misunderstandings to an almost absurd height somehow without losing coherence or narrative energy.
A film this dense needs an engaging center and in Clive Owen and Julia Roberts Gilroy gets two capital-M movie stars in good form. I've never gone out of my way to be a Julia Roberts fan. It's too easy to say Erin Brockovich is my favorite Roberts film; it's probably her best but I prefer the superficial pleasures of Notting Hill and even her scenes with James Gandolfini in The Mexican. Roberts genuinely surprised me in Duplicity; she hits reserves of bitterness and suppressed longing that I suspect may even transcend what was on the page. She's matched by an unexpectedly light Owen, and their late scene together in the Zurich airport is a minuet of finally acknowledged passion. The actors (including Paul Giamatti as an insecure CEO and Denis O'Hare as a corporate spy) give Duplicity its heart but it's Gilroy's control of information that prevents it from being another Ocean's 11. There isn't a wasted moment, which is quite a feat for a 2 hour plus movie.
Every flashback and repetition of dialogue in Duplicity has meaning, but as pleasant as the ride is it's the payoff that disappoints. Parts of Michael Clayton may have been set in deep Law & Order territory but that film had a specificity of place that Duplicity never achieves. There's an airless quality that's ultimately frustrating and it was difficult for me to imagine Owen and Roberts's characters existing outside the movie. I'm sold on Gilroy's command of structure and narrative process (the film is better plotted than Michael Clayton in my view) and Duplicity looks great, but next time out I'd like to see him give his characters a little room to breathe.