Write/director Tony Gilroy is a great writer and has recently proven a competent director. Until he decided to try on the director hat he was best known for penning the screenplay for all three Bourne movies, which were both critically and commercially successful. Now he has seemed to find his niche with the underhanded dealings of corporate espionage, first with his critically acclaimed, Oscar winning Michael Clayton, and now with Duplicity.
Duplicity is essentially a love story about two spies, one CIA the other MI6, who fall in love while on the job in Dubai. Their story is told in the present, both having left their respective agencies, as they work together to defraud two large corporations out of a multi-million dollar product, and through flashbacks, which fill in the gaps and gradually let you in on their entire scheme. The ex-spies, played brilliantly by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, are hired by competing pharmaceutical companies who manufacture all types of creams and lotions, which evidently are two completely different things. Julia's character is also hired by one corporation to be a mole inside the other corporation's security team. The CEOs for the corporations (Tom Wilkinson & Paul Giamatti) hate each others guts, as evident by the hilarious opening sequence, and are constantly trying to undermine each other, to always stay one step ahead. The unfolding plot is not confusing, but as Julia Roberts said in a recent interview with Charlie Rose, you don't want to have to go take a pee in the middle of it.
This is Julia Roberts' first real headliner since Mona Lisa Smile (2003), having acted in some ensemble pieces and done some voice work along the way. One of those ensemble pieces was Closer, which also starred Clive Owen in a messy love rectangle along with Natalie Portman and Jude Law. Owen's and Roberts' chemistry in Closer was electric, albeit in a much more serious movie, and they do not seem to have lost any of that connection or electricity. Another very intriguing element to the movie is a conversation between the two that takes place several times throughout the movie, almost word for word, and every time you hear it you know a little bit more of what's going on. Much more than some quirky gimmick, I found it to be an effective narrative tool, both fresh and original.
I think this film plays well for most audiences because it is light hearted, playful, and sexy, while simultaneously being suspenseful and ironic, all within the mystique of a good heist movie. As a point of reference, I'd place it in between Michael Clayton and the Ocean's movies, thematically as well as its tonality. What finally makes this film one to see is its overall quality. The masterfully written script, the great direction, and the abundance of incredible actors make Duplicity well worth your movie-going dollars.