(No longer in theaters)
Laura Bickford, Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent
Mar 20, 2009
So much of a movie’s appeal comes down to whether you enjoy staring at the actors’ faces for a couple of hours. In Goodbye Solo, there are two tantalizing, unfamiliar ones—new maps to pore over. But the familiar face of Julia Roberts in the pretzel-plotted corporate-espionage thriller Duplicity holds surprises, too. Roberts took a break after her less-than-stellar Broadway debut in 2006, and she’s now more drawn, which means her mouth is proportionately larger, which means she’s closing in on Heath Ledger–Joker territory. But she’s still nice to look at. She’s starting to bleed in the mind’s eye into Kyra Sedgwick, who played her sister in Something to Talk About and whose face has, conversely, softened with age. Roberts’s features are tense, but that works for the role of Claire (ironic name alert), a corporate counterspy who might or might not be playing fellow agent Ray (Clive Owen) for a chump. If this were a Mamet movie, you’d have no doubt Claire will turn out to be a whore with her eye on the mother lode, but writer-director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) is the most romantic of conspiracy theorists. Maybe Owens’s charms (he’s wolfish yet needy) have actually gotten to her.
Duplicity is deeply shallow—cheap reversals all the way down. But it’s a passably amusing brainteaser. At its center are rival corporations with CEOs played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, who have a crazy hatred for each other and want to steal each other’s secrets. Claire and Ray ostensibly work for Giamatti, the shadier and more repulsive, but they have side machinations of their own. The question of why—apart from their good looks—we should root for them hangs in the air; they’re thoroughly immoral. But Gilroy resolves that issue satisfactorily. As he proved in Michael Clayton, he knows how to write a final scene. He knows how to write an opener, too. It’s in the middle that things get laborious.
Duplicity is certainly busy. Gilroy tarts it up with multiple gliding split screens (they work better on 24), and James Newton Howard’s brassy score gives the illusion of momentum even when the frames are inert. Gilroy does loop-de-loops with the syntax. There’s an overture in which Ray seduces Claire—or has Claire seduced Ray into seducing her? Then it’s five years later. Then it’s two years earlier. Then it’s next week, then last week, then three minutes from now, then 10,000 years on, when the robots have taken over. Michael J. Fox flies by in a DeLorean. After a flurry of climactic flashbacks, we finally take in the whole puzzle picture. The last shot of Roberts and Owen is what we’ve waited two hours to see. Gilroy knows that after all the whizbang convolutions, it still comes down to a look on a movie star’s face …