Universal // PG-13 // March 20, 2009
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 21, 2009
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I personally don't wear them very often, and I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about fashion, but I love the look of a good suit. A good suit will tell you a number of things you'd want to know about a person through their value, style, upkeep and color, and the one worn by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) is no different. It's pristine and perfect, as crisp and sharp as a new dollar bill, the way it must have looked on the store mannequin. We'd almost assume it'd never been worn, but Howard never wears anything else. The same goes for Howard's desk, his office, his plant, his building and the man himself: impeccable. Richard Garsick (Paul Giamatti) has a suit too. It's almost as nice, but the loud pinstripes and glossy gleam are like a billboard for his car-salesman-style charm; Howard's suit commands respect, Dick's suit screams for attention. The biggest con in Tony Gilroy's Duplicity isn't the elaborate game played by ex-CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and ex-MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen), but the way it pretends Wilkinson and Giamatti's personal and corporate rivalry isn't the point of the film.

Although Duplicity is being advertised like an Ocean's Eleven-style caper, where Roberts and Owen are concerned, the romance takes center stage, and while diamond heists and double-crosses should be blink-and-you'll-miss-'em, sexual tension requires a slow burn. The movie struggles in finding a balance, and the pacing is more than likely to make people antsy as repeated flashbacks to Claire and Ray's building relationship begin to stack up. There's also something missing in the pair's romantic chemistry; while they're both entertaining throughout the movie, they make a better team than they do a couple. Stunning locales such as Rome bend over backwards to amp up the mood, and both of them look spectacular (I've always been a fan of Roberts), but their burning attraction seems somewhat artificial.

Luckily, I'd watch Wilkinson read the phone book, and the battle between himself and Giamatti provides the comedic thrust Duplicity needs to stay entertaining. Howard and Dick are the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies Burkett-Randle and Equikrom, respectively, and their venom for one another knows no bounds. The opening credit sequence, in which the pair of them throw down in slow-motion on a wet and windy runway is hilarious. Howard has the upper hand, both in body-slams and business deals, and though Dick may have commercial savvy, in his book, knowing how much savvy the other guy has might be more important. He hires Claire and Ray to spy on Howard (in various internal and external ways too complicated to waste time explaining) and when Howard announces to his top-level staff that Burkett-Randle is rolling out a new product, Dick's infuriated that he doesn't know what it is.

Claire and Ray's plan is simple: steal the big idea and sell it to a third-party company right under Howard and Dick's noses, but what is it? They don't know either. Tony Gilroy's screenplay is clever in the way it makes using copiers look as risky as robbing banks, all while ratcheting up Claire and Ray's personal paranoia: they're unquestionably attracted to each other, but they both can't help but think it never hurts to get there first. Again, anyone expecting a caper should know the ending of Duplicity plays out in a minor key, but as they say, it's not about happens, but how it happens that's interesting. It's also nice to see a film that's smart without being complicated. All too often, these kinds of movies can get too wrapped up in a mess of names, places, dates and code words, but the movie rewards attention without being too data-oriented. The supporting cast, meanwhile, runs a heist of their own, with Wayne Duvall and Carrie Preston stealing a few moments outright from Roberts and Owen.

Howard weeds the tiny tree on his desk with precision and patience, personally picking pieces out with a miniature pair of tweezers, and yet he seems unassuming and warm. Dick, meanwhile, sends his decoy for another lap around the block in a fancy stretch limousine, but shows up at a bowling alley in his idea of casual wear to talk to Claire and Ray. Which one is more duplicitous? I imagine Howard and Dick meeting for the first time, sizing each other up, internally scoffing at the other man's suit in moral disgust. In a game with players playing players, someone's going to get burned, but thanks to Wilkinson and Giamatti, it's not the audience, and anyone who doesn't mind the lagging pace should find Duplicity to be a funny, low-key knockout.

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