Reviewed by: Val Kermode

Tony Gilroy (of Michael Clayton fame) makes a handsome job of directing this tale of corporate espionage. He has all sorts of fun playing with the word “duplicity” in its original sense, from the opening credit sequence where two executive planes face each other on the tarmac and two corporate teams watch in horror as their bosses have a slow motion punch-up. He reminds us of his Bourne credentials with his use of split screen, and the whole plot structure is a series of meetings with repeated conversations.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play a pair of ex-spies who team up to find a way into a large corporation and make themselves a lot of money by double crossing their bosses. Beginning with a meeting in Dubai, the story unfolds in a series of flashbacks leading back to the present. The couple meet again in New York, Rome, London, the Bahamas, Miami, Cleveland (Yes, Cleveland). They keep having what seems like the same conversation, they never entirely trust each other and it’s deliberately unclear who is playing whom.

Copy picture

The screenplay is often hard to follow, but the film is good to look at. That Rome apartment is particularly luscious, though it’s unclear why either of them actually went to Rome. And there’s Julia Roberts, who is always at her best when allowed to play angry (a la Erin Brockovich). A pity then that we don’t get enough of that passion, instead we're given quite a lot of Julia acting baffled and pretty while Clive Owen acts baffled.

This is the sort of ground covered more intriguingly by David Mamet (eg House of Games). It needs a more crackling central relationship to keep it interesting. It is fairly obvious from the start that the two are going to fall in love, and soon that neither lover is actually going to betray the other, which only leaves the question, will they get away with it?

It does have an excellent performance from Paul Giamatti as the head of one of the rival companies, who thinks he has the formula that everyone is seeking and Tom Wilkinson - as his rival - is reliable as ever, though somewhat hampered by having to use 12A certificate words such as “fricking”. But just how exciting can pharmaceuticals be? This isn’t exactly the Cold War.

If you are a balding Julia Roberts fan and an armchair traveller, you will probably find much here to enjoy. For the rest of us, it’s only mildly entertaining.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2009
Share this with others on...
Duplicity packshot
Two former corporate spies scheme to swindle their bosses.
Amazon link

Director: Tony Gilroy

Writer: Tony Gilroy

Starring: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Dan Daily, Lisa Roberts Gillan, David Shumbris, Rick Worthy, Oleg Shtefanko, Denis O'Hare

Year: 2009

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Charlie Wilson's War
Mr & Mrs Smith