The director of Michael Clayton goes after global conglomerations once again, but this time with a decidedly humorous flair.
At its most fundamental level, Duplicity is all about one big con. But, thanks to Tony Gilroy’s skillful writing and directing, it’s not clear who’s in the catbird seat until the very last frames of the movie.
Things start out in Dubai, July 4, 2003. Ray Koval (Clive Owen, Sin City) is an MI:6 operative hitting on Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts, Closer), who’s on a mission for the CIA. After playing coy, she falls for his charms, knee brace and British accent, but after a fantastic night in the sack, Ray’s the one who winds up drugged and played for some super-secret intelligence.
But that’s all foreplay to the main act. The opening credits roll amid a goofy — but ruthless — bit of fisticuffs between the heads of two major conglomerates, the primary drivers of the movie’s overarching plot. It’s pouring rain and their employees watch from a distance, under the cover of umbrellas and trench coats, their corporate jets facing each other outside the hangar.
It’s Equikrom vs. Burkett Randle, Round Umpteen. Representing Equikrom is Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man) and in the BR corner is Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton).
From there, the story shifts between the present and the past. It’s a globetrotting affair that bounces from New York to Rome to London to Zurich to Dunwoody. Yeah, as in Dunwoody, Ga.
The present shows Ray and Claire, each having gone private and sparring against each other as players in the ceaseless Equikrom/Burkett Randle feud. The past explains how everybody got to where they are in the present and what they hope to get in the future.
Claire and Ray each have their own dreams of living large after securing a $40 million stash by playing agents and moles, feeding corporate greed while lining their own pockets. Howard and Richard each have dreams of scooping their competitor while they bask in the glorious praises of their sycophantic minions. All four key players are all getting in a tizzy over the next big thing (and what exactly is the next big thing?).
As the sleuthing unfolds and the marvels of technology come into play, one group of spies makes some Sherlock Holmesian deductions. The subject’s stock is down, their parking lot is empty, and porn-surfing on the job is way up. That can mean only one thing: The new product’s gotta be coming from a recent acquisition.
Maybe somebody should do a background check on Gilroy and find out where and how he got such an accurate — and blistering — view of the pretentious corporate cogs that seek world domination.
Much like he did with Michael Clayton, Gilroy toys with the audience, teasing us like a kitty tantalized by a bouncing ball of yarn. For quite some time it’s not clear where the story’s going, if anywhere. And it’s certainly not clear who to root for. Or maybe there’s nobody to root for: they’re all self-absorbed, dishonest, and, yeah, duplicitous.
Duplicity is full of ideas. Some of them are most definitely intentional dead ends. But a lot of the shenanigans are simply fun to watch and to think about.
How much of this nonsense really goes on out there in the trenches of corporate warfare? Sadly, probably one heckuva lot. An oddball subplot finds Ray working the details of new frozen pizza lines. Stealing ideas, ingredients and technological improvements — it’s all part of the game. And it seems to be a not-so-veiled play off two very real “delivery quality” frozen pizza empires.
While Howard and Richard drive the narrative, Ray and Claire are the ones looking for one quick fix before getting out. They want to rise above the muckety-muck and become decent people.
At one point during their on-again, off-again, on-again love affair, Claire tells Ray, “I know who you are and I love you anyway.”
It’s only natural for Ray to wonder what her motivation is for saying that. Did she mean it? Or does she want something?
There’s plenty of good wordplay to enjoy and there’s hardly a better couple to watch wrangle with reality and duplicity than Owen and Roberts. Serving as a long-in-waiting follow-up to their co-starring work in Closer, Duplicity provides assurance that, while they might not exactly capture the magic of Hepburn and Tracy, they’re most certainly a solid replacement for the Douglas/Turner tag team.