Duplicity: When Michael Clayton Meets 1940s Romcom
Tony Gilroy spends a lot of time thinking about the machinations and warfare of modern corporations. This time, instead of an intense thriller like his first film, the terrific Michael Clayton, we get light satire of the corporations’ dirty tricks in the midst of con games and screwball comedy. It feels like a throwback, with the big stars, the love/hate banter, and the ever-present suit our lead male wears. While it all becomes a bit predictable in the delight it takes twisting the audience around, it nevertheless serves as a light fun flick, perfect for a spring date.
Ray (Clive Owen) and Claire (Julia Roberts) are two spies who meet in Dubai. They sleep together, she drugs him and steals important documents from him, and he can’t get her out of his mind. They encounter working for the same corporation, her as an agent working undercover at the enemy headquarters, him as her new drop-man. They can’t figure out how much they really like each other through their mistrust, but there’s a chemistry between the two of them that keeps bringing them back together. Meanwhile, the enemy CEO (Tom Wilkinson) is about to reveal a revolutionary new product that is being kept insanely secret… so naturally, their boss (Paul Giamatti) wants the secret before its revealed. Who exactly are Ray and Claire conning? The enemies? Their boss? Each other?
I think this film works best when we see the comical depths to which corporations will sink in order to steal, trap, and swindle their opponents into failing for their own glory. This part of the film is funniest to me, because the satire laced into the words show that this isn’t screwball genre convention, it’s actually what these corporations do. The reality of it is what’s most amusing. The dialogue by Gilroy is as fresh as ever, but the love/hate romance dialogue gets a bit predictable after a while. Owen: “You don’t trust me.” Roberts: “Well, you don’t trust me either!” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. However, they snap the dialogue back and forth very well, and the chemistry between the two certainly works. Owen is his usually rogueish charmer, and Roberts is more captivating in this film than she has been since Erin Brockovich– normally I’m not a big fan, but her movie-star persona lends the film a certain credibility and gives it its old-school, classic Hollywood feel.
While it’s unlikely I remember this film in a few months, it has some real charm and is a fine date flick for the spring season. I’m reminded a bit of a more obvious throwback, Peyton Reed’s Down With Love. Light, forgettable, a bit predictable, but certainly worth the time spent. Gilroy shows his ability to capably handle multiple genres, and cements himself as a director to watch for the foreseeable future. Certainly his ability to delve into and criticize the seedy world of CEOs is perfectly in tune with America’s sentiments during these economic times, and Duplicity lets us peek without heavyhandedness– a grim reminder woven into gentle escapist fare, making it all the more palatable. If only the film had focused in on that rather than plot convolutions and the love/hate banter, we might have been given a more memorable final product.