Clive Owen is one of those actors who hasn’t found his audience yet, but has a devoted following of men and women who get him. It’s easy to see why he’s got something of a cult following: The man gives off the air of casual cool, and has what magazines refer to as “a rugged sex appeal” in a way that few modern actors possess. He looks like he could have been a day laborer at one point or another, probably did some boxing, but knows how to wrap his way around words. He’s got those penetrating eyes that suggest the sort of world-weariness that was of fashion in the 30’s and 40’s. And yet when a film of his clicks with an audience (Inside Man, Sin City), it’s usually because he’s an ensemble player. Duplicity did not find its audience, and Clive Owen still waits for the role that connects him with audiences. My Review of Duplicity after the jump.
Which is too bad as Duplicity is a very fun con man movie about two former competing spies who used to be in government work, but now are on the same team of corporate spies pursuing a huge leap forward in a scientific development that could revolutionize… something. Clive Owen is Ray, who is put in charge of Claire (Julia Roberts), whom he had an affair with back in his MI 6 days. She’s working for Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), but is actually undercover for Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti). Tully has just announced a huge breakthrough, but not what the breakthrough is, and Garsik wants to beat him to the punch oh so badly.
But what no one knows is that Ray and Claire are in it for themselves, or might be if they can hang on to their relationship, which is put under strain by their plan, and as it evolves in the film’s flashbacks, it’s hard to know exactly where anyone stands. And that’s the fun of Tony Gilroy’s film, in that he constantly keeps you off terra firma, but never in an unpleasant way. You jump from piece of information to piece of information with a delight, because the cast is winning and the attitude and dialog are pitched perfectly.
Where Gilroy’s Michael Collins (which has its fans) was a little too serious and would-be Alan J. Pakula, here it’s all about the right level of banter and tone, and this film has its two leads perfectly matched, and avoids some of the problems of the con film, which is that the ending can never be exactly what you expect, but you know to expect that, so you’re constantly second-guessing what comes next. Here the ending is just about right.
But if you love Clive Owen, then this is easily his best American leading man film. He gets to show off what makes him so appealing as a performer. Unfortunately, he outmatches Julia Roberts, who does okay work here, but you look at her in a different light now that she’s somewhat walked away from Hollywood. She doesn’t have that glow she once did, and it’s been twenty years since Pretty Woman. She’s still a charming onscreen presence, but she’s ready for her Mildred Pierce. Then again, you get Giamatti and Wilkinson fighting it out, returning the onscreen chemistry that was so ripe in John Adams. These two are the couple of the decade.
Universal presents the Blu-ray of the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD. The transfer is just about perfect. Extras are limited to a commentary by writer/director Tony Gilroy, and Editor/Co-Producer John Gilroy. Yes, they are relations. And their commentary track is excellent. But that’s it for supplements. A rare modest modern movie disc. I kind of like that.