Duplicity Review

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MI6 spook Ray (Owen) is seduced and outwitted by CIA honeytrapper Claire (Roberts). But they enjoy playing each other and join the private sector of corporate espionage to make off with a trade secret and a mighty pension pot... If they can resist stabbing each other in the back.


There's far more sarcasm than snogging in a romantic caper that reunites Closer co-stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen for a combative round of sex, lies and betrayal. It’s also considerably more fun than their previous cinematic encounter. The con that consumes them is a good one. Having retired from their respective intelligence agencies to bankroll a lobe-trotting getaway in sexy luxury, Roberts’ Claire Stenwick and Owen’s Ray Koval get their feet under desks in the counter-intelligence departments — for such things exist, apparently — of two rival multinationals. Her boss is ruthless tycoon Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), while Ray’s employer is Tully’s brash nemesis, Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti). These two captains of industry hate each other’s guts so much, they’ve escalated from public punch-up to financing a business war using paranoia, sleuthing, spyware and dirty tricks to foil each other in a big-money, top-secret product launch.

Writer-director Tony Gilroy ticks all the espionage escapade boxes: good-looking people, designer duds, international scenery (London, Rome, New York, the Bahamas, some place pretending to be Dubai), nifty gadgets (surveillance and code-cracking gizmos, ghosts in machines), the nimble eluding of the tail at major transport hubs, and similarly cool, sneaky stuff he deployed in the Bourne screenplays. There are no parcour or car chases, alas, but there are thongs and Champagne. It’s elegantly, expertly done.

Gilroy has gone full on for a classic caper in the Hitchcockian or Charade line of sophisticated comedy thrillers, and it is smart, slick and full of clever twists, with some witty badinage and good performances down the cast list. But to pull off an unqualified delight it is essential that the stars twinkle. Ever since Cary Grant died that has been the big problem in this genre. Clive Owen is no Cary Grant. Nobody else is either, but you definitely want more playfulness and suavity in your Armani-suited deceivers. Roberts, back after her protracted maternity leave, is also okay but not dazzling. And without giving the game away, the who-has-outsmarted-whom? finish kind of fizzles.

The chemical combustion just isn’t there between Julia and Clive, and you can’t help wondering if Gilroy wrote this with George Clooney in mind. Still, a glamorous, diverting escapade that over-30s in particular can enjoy.