Directed by Tony Gilroy
“Duplicity” is a lovely throwback to the kind of screwball comedy that Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant made in Howard Hawks’s “His Girl Friday.” Julia Roberts at 41 is at the height of her sex appeal, which is quite a height indeed; and Clive Owen, at 45, is still the sexiest man alive. if you need a reason, that alone is enough to make “Duplicity” a worthwhile film. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy, whose scripts for the “Bourne” identity films and “Michael Clayton” are classics of their kind, “Duplicity” is the story of a con that the two of them arrange and pull off over a period of a few years. But cons don’t always have a happy ending, no matter how much you pull for them (think “The Sting” as an example o one that does) and you need to keep that in mind.
He’s a former MI6 agent, she’s a former CIA agent, and they sense that two competing corporations in the health-care business are on the verge of a breakthrough that if they play their cards right will lead the two of them to owning the formula and the millions that will come with it, by selling it to a Swiss conglomerate. The way they do it will involve the two of them becoming security managers for the two companies, who are owned by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, who hate each other, and the film opens with their private planes pointed face to face on the tarmac as they tussle on the ground in a lovely scene in the rain.
At this point let me say that I had a terrible time following the ins and outs of the plot, which leaps around from Dubai to Rome to New York, and needed my wife’s more subtle mind to make sense of it all. “Well, of course you don’t get it,” my wife said; “You don’t have a duplicitous bone in your body!” Whether that’s a compliment or an insult I’m not sure, but the fact is that I didn’t get who was doing what to whom. And yet I was entranced by what I saw on the screen, and you will be too.
They are both suspicious of each other, never allowing themselves to relax, and yet they do find a way to enjoy romantic sex with each other. There is a scene in the middle of the film in which Roberts is questioning a secretary who did in fact sleep with Owen. As the girl describes the event, Roberts says not a word, but we watch the conflicting emotions play across her face; it is one of the great scenes in this latter screwball comedy.
So like it or not, understand who is doing what to whom or not, “Dulplicity” is a film that rewards repeat viewing, something I intend to do as soon as my heart stops racing. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are the couple of the century; can you think of anything better?