Claire and Ray are star-crossed lovers, and they finally have the beachfront property of their dreams. But how will they enjoy it together when they're miles apart as snoops at rival firms, working in tandem to steal a priceless trade secret? They gaze out at the million-dollar view. "This is what we wanted, right?" "I guess so."
Heavy stuff for a smoothly sanded romantic caper, but then Tony Gilroy's Duplicity is as indebted to the 1976 corporate satire Network as it is to The Thomas Crown Affair. Coincidentally screening on Saturday at the NW Film Center, Network is perhaps best remembered for its anti-establishment rallying cry: "We'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first…stick your head out and yell, and say it: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'" Network was originally released to an exhausted America that had just elected a new President out of left field, a political unknown by the name of Jimmy Carter. How convenient that 2009 now has a comedy of white-collar terrors to call its own.
Writer-director Gilroy has laced Duplicity with all the neurosis of 1970s Hollywood. He repeats, with variation, the same tragicomic scenario: Claire (Julia Roberts) and Ray (Clive Owen) secretly rendezvous somewhere swanky like Rome, or Miami, or…Cleveland, and proceed to interrogate each other's loyalty. If they have some time left after this, the movie recedes into the center of the black screen, granting them the discretion of making love. Passive-aggressively, I should think.
Gilroy is credited as a screenwriter on The Bourne Identity and its two sequels, but when he directs his own material, he has no use for the jittery style of those Matt Damon thrillers. He delights in editing for poetic ideas, not for frenetic energy. In one scene of Duplicity, Roberts must feign indifference to a giddy account of sexual betrayal, and as the camera savors the exquisite rage beneath her stony silence, a matching image slides in of a statuary lion in Trafalgar Square. The viewer has just enough time to note the family resemblance before being whisked away to London.
As yet, Gilroy has eyes and ears for only one subject, the crisis of corporate cynicism, but what eyes, and what ears! His previous movie, Michael Clayton, commenced with Tom Wilkinson's lawyer going off his medication and narrating an eerie vision of abandoned offices and unanswered phones—a morbid Wall Street apocalypse straight out of Network. In Duplicity, he retains Wilkinson in the role of a satanic CEO, adds Paul Giamatti as his nebbishy corporate rival, and plays the opening credits over their rain-soaked, slow-motion boss fight. It's funnier than Michael Clayton, but no less magnificent. (This is, after all, the Tony Gilroy who co-wrote The Devil's Advocate, in which boss Al Pacino really was the Prince of Darkness.)
As it should be, the lead attraction is Julia and Clive playing Claire and Ray, the company spies in love. Who is spying on whom? Recognizing that a good kiss renders moot that old espionage chestnut, Gilroy offers many more narrative come-ons. What exactly do these companies produce? Does it matter? Are these spies in a movie, or actors in a movie? What's the difference? Roberts and Owen seem to have been practicing their whole careers for this poker-faced dance, and it is another delight to realize Wilkinson and Giamatti have been typecast, not only for personality, but for hairline, too. Double-crosses beget triple-crosses, until a glorious final punch line: If you pin your dreams on corporate America, don't be surprised when you end up seduced and abandoned. Thank goodness it's only a date movie.
is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, Cineotpia, City Center, Cornelius, Evergreen, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Sandy, Tigard and Wilsonville.