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cast: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, and Rick Worthy

director: Tony Gilroy

121 minutes (12) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
When Cary Grant climbed through the bad guys' window in Charade (1963), revealing himself to be part of their gang, this shock twist was all the more potent if you had never seen the movie before, and were the sort of person who didn't realise that Cary Grant at this stage in his career was unlikely to play a bad guy. The fact that Grant had played borderline bad guys earlier in his career, and was quite adept at conveying menace, as Hitchcock the genus loci of Charade had realised, made the revelatory twist all the more effective.

The comedy thriller, with comedy that genuinely makes you laugh and thrills that generate tension, is notoriously difficult to do, as Stanley Donen discovered when he attempted to duplicate Charade's success three years later with Arabesque. Donen had the stars, Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, just as pretty and winsome as Grant, and Audrey Hepburn, but the film failed to click in the same way.

Duplicity has the stars, the locations, the plot, but it is a technical exercise; it quivers on the page but just fails to fly on the screen. Clive Owen, the man who should be Bond, is Ray Koval, a MI6 agent reverse-seduced, drugged, and relieved of important defence codes by Julia Roberts' Claire, a CIA spook, in Dubai. In reverse flashbacks from this moment, threaded through the current narrative, we witness their paths cross as, attracted to each other but wary, they devise a plan to infiltrate warring corporations and, working in tandem from opposite sides, rip-off a technological or marketing innovation for their own benefit. Claire goes to work for Howard Tully's Burkett and Randle while acting as a mole for Dick Garsik's Equikrom, Ray joins Equikrom as Claire's handler. When Tully announces an innovative new product, Claire and Ray realise that this is their moment.

Owen and Roberts are reunited since their appearance in Closer although Owen's character doesn't get to ask Roberts if she likes someone coming in her face. Dick Garsick is played by Paul Giamatti who played opposite Owen in Shoot 'Em Up. Everyone gives a good account of themselves, including Tom Wilkinson as Garsick's rival Howard Tully.

There is something about Owen that makes you think he shouldn't be a star, his flat Warwickshire vowels, the hint of the wooden; but he has that star quality, and good looks that seem to come out of another era of cinema. Why can't they remake Thunderball as a 1960s' period piece with Owen in the lead? Julia Roberts in early middle-age commands the screen; but has she had a little work done on her lips? Sometimes she even looks commonplace, dowdy even, normal (apart from the lip-work) hence beautiful. The pair sort-of have a chemistry, but their big scene is not convincing.

This film is pacy and involving but almost broadcasts the fact that there will be twists, so while there is a humdinger of a twist lurking away in there the reveal does not make you slap your brow. And while the advancing flashbacks of Ray and Claire's relationship is a good device, why did Gilroy have to use that old chestnut of the how-it-all-happened montage at the end? We got it. This technique was a treat in The Prestige, rather confusing in The Illusionist (also with Giamatti), and old hat by Flawless. Curiously enough, at the end of Charade multiple screens pop up to show all the characters Cary Grant has adopted during the film, a sort of hybrid of the screen effects used in Duplicity for the flashbacks and the final montage. Nothing new under the Sun...

As a DVD extra, Tony Gilroy gives a class in screenwriting as part of his commentary.

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