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Cinema Signal: Good for some audiences - not for all

Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Duplicity"

To immediately (and slyly), convey the theme of the movie, the opening shot of writer-director Tony Gilroy's romantic con game thriller is of two matching corporate jets facing each other on the tarmac as mirror images in a wide establishing tableau. Separate packs of people are on the ground near each plane. As two figures--one from each side--break toward one another the camera goes in for closer detail as they meet in the middle like two rhinos fighting for dominance. In a slow-motion ballet of rage and hatred, they hit, rip and dodge with vehemence and the little martial skill each possesses until they are torn from their violent embrace.

The pair are the CEO's of rival companies, Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) repping the firm of Burkett & Randle and Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) doing the same for Omnikrom. Clearly, the use of the term rivals to describe them would appear to be understating the intense, personal factor. These two are engaged in a contest from hell and this scene is brilliant in the way it leaves no questions about the central conflict, and the stakes involved, which bring about everything that proceeds.

Not the least of which is corporate espionage calling for the skills of two like Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and Ray Koval (Clive Owen). It's a good thing they're opposite genders because the movie formula is high-test romance in the context of deception and conniving. In short, utter duplicity. In fact, what's about to be perpetrated is duplicity upon duplicity, a mire of it that's so thick it's a wonder anyone can keep track. (I can just imagine the first read-through between director and cast).

When they meet, she denies knowing him, even though we all know how she seduced and drugged him in order to obtain secret papers. But, sooner or later, she will cop to the past, sort of in order to have a future with him. But this is a matchup of spies on opposite sides and, for all the magnetic attraction and the mutual coolness (in the best sense), the spoiler is the matter of trust. They can't know when the other is being honest or indulging in misdirection. It's a dilemma. Or, is it? You will ask yourself: Is there anything in the movie you can trust?

A hint of the stakes involved comes when Tully brings his management staff together for an announcement of a pending product that Burkett & Randle will soon possess, which will change the company forever. It will be a scoop of monumental proportions. Trouble is, the competition (you remember, Omnikrom led by Tully's nemesis Dick Garsik) is on to the same product and will do whatever it takes to get it first.

In terms of the surveillance technology brought to bear, it's no less questionably advanced in such things as target location than other futuristic drama, from "Red Road" to "Deja Vu" and "Eagle Eye." I'm not giving too much away, however, by telling you to watch out for the old, trusty, recording device.

What impressed me most about "Duplicity" isn't the intricacy of the con game but two other elements that make this film satisfying for a discerning adult audience. The first is depth and originality of the dialogue, and it's here that Gilroy's screenplay is virtually impeccable. The other are the two stars. Talk about trust--there have hardly been another screen couple who gave it more in terms of highly professional collaborative craftsmanship. Two people with the same calm, deliberate confidence, sexy attractiveness, and a comfort with one another that you can feel-- Roberts and Owen amount to casting heaven. They make simple work out of acting circles around us. You have to embrace them for it.

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The DVD
The Blu-ray Edition DVD

The Soundtrack
by James Newton Howard

[Possible Spoiler:] One delicious moment among many is the scene in which Claire purports to have found a black thong in Ray's closet. And this after they have professed their love for each other! It's one of several gotcha! moments, but Ray insists that he hasn't had anything going on with another woman. We don't know which one is going to come out ahead in this contest of wills... until Claire admits that she planted the thong. It was all just a test. Ray turns away from her and walks into a closeup at the window. As Claire is going on about how relieved she is to know that she can trust Ray, Owen breathes the subtlest, most economically expressed sigh of relief. It's a howl and, as the Brits love to say, brilliant.

But, before I let you go... there's trouble in espionage land. The reason why this caper is bound to bring only moderate returns in spite of all the virtues Gilroy devises, it's the confusion in story structure. He's so hell-bent on trickery, to the point of using endless layers of flashbacks, the cleverness becomes self-defeating. Instead of making your viewers participants in the deceptions which, I think, is the key to the most successful examples of the genre, he insists on going out of his way to demonstrate the extent of his cleverness. It's a bit offputting, though never so much as to put the talented part in jeopardy.

The skill level of all departments is pro. James Newton Howard's score is more lively than most, and hits the right beats. It's a film whose artistry is indisputable and, if the clarity gets muddled, the effort to stay afloat in the swamp of spy-gamesmanship does pay off.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Julia Roberts and Clive Owen
When a casual meeting is anything but.

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