Duplicity lacks necessary spark

Lacking the necessary power to reverse the hands of time, Duplicity, a corporate spy film, may have been one of the movies missed in the calm and mellow moods of a mollifying Spring Break, so I shall take joy in reviewing it so you may escape to a life unfettered by such a lumbering production.

It is supposed to be scintillating, right? Although Duplicity has moments of life and thrilling suspense, a movie about two sexy spies running a corporate intelligence heist should have more of a spark, a flare…something. I suppose I should summarize before continuing.

Ex-CIA agent Clair Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and the former MI6 agent she previously duped, Ray Koval (Clive Owen), are now working as private spies in the business world.

Playing both sides of a corporate war between hygiene mogul Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and his magnate rival Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), the former agents intend to position themselves for possession of secret and highly valuable intellectual property.

It’s a very exciting plot, but the execution left much to be desired. The movie decides to fill in the audience on the agents’ pasts through flashbacks. Now I do not think it was intended to be extraordinarily obtuse so that only the most observant may decipher it; I would have named it a masterstroke of subtlety and been happy with the fact.

Rather, I think it was more the farcing of the flashbacks with very unnecessary points that armed each scene with dullness. Each encounter examined was entirely formulaic.

Every time Stenwick hints at something that she might have underhandedly done to hang Koval out to dry, it was just a rehashing of their mutual lack of trust and a comment on how that is just the way they operate. Taking away those points of each situation, the remainder is a bland and overly trite exposition, and all are pointless except for the first and final flashbacks.

Obviously I would have words with writer and director Tony Gilroy, but some would be complimentary. Choosing to have the merchandise checked in a language foreign to the protagonists was a very delicate touch. The impending sense of misfortune through the character’s body language exquisitely polishes the final twist and sets the climax as something of merit and worthy of the climb.

Other than the climax, I shall reserve words of praise for the last bastion of excellence–the actors. Roberts and Owen fit eerily well into this film.

Chic spies seem to spring naturally from these actors when they are onscreen, and as a pair, Owen and Roberts make a spectacular chemistry. Roberts’ ability to play an annoyingly mischievous woman and Owen’s perfected talent of expressing a cool anger go together sublimely.

Gilroy, as the writer, made great work using the talent of the actors. However, I was very impressed with the cultivation of the other characters’ personas, especially Howard Tully. The image of him is just so perfectly refined into a classic mastermind. Instead of a lair, he has his company. Instead of a cat, he has a bonsai tree. For his henchman, he has his payroll employees. It is a revitalization of classic Bond villains which fits perfectly with the spy genre.

Take away the world ransom and the death-traps and Tully would be a corporate mirror of Blofeld. Tom Wilkinson plays the part exactly right and carries it well on such talent. Paul Giamatti was also quite skilled in his role as the ultra-competitive businessman Richard Garsik, though I would have liked to see a more dramatic role in his last scene onscreen.

Duplicity is an interesting, though labored, story of corporate espionage. These actors are in very suitable parts, but this movie would not be my top choice to see in theaters. And yet it allows me to look forward with anticipation to the next movie written by Gilroy, State of Play.