Despite its title, “Duplicity” ultimately provides what is expected. The film is written and directed by Tony Gilroy — director and writer of “Michael Clayton” and writer of the Jason Bourne trilogy — which means a certain formula: shocking twists building to a surprising ending, gritty cinematography, an unusual narrative structure based on non-linear time, a jaded view of the corporate world and fast, witty banter.
“Duplicity” is a Gilroy flick through and through, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: “Clayton” and the second and third Bourne films are some of the best movies this decade. But whereas “Clayton” emerges from a dark, sadistic perspective and Bourne exudes pure action adrenaline, “Duplicity” adapts the Gilroy-ian formula into a more light-hearted sphere. Each of the three twists on the formula — it’s a romance, it’s a satire and it’s a spectacle — is successful. “Duplicity” provides a solid two hours in the theater.
The Bourne trilogy is unique in its genre for its general lack of romance or sex, symbolized by the murder of love interest Franka Potente in the opening scenes of the second film. But “Duplicity” revels in its romantic and sexual flourishes. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts star as two spies working for rival agencies trying to con their way into millions. Watching the pair on screen makes you wish they were starring in less complex romantic comedy. The best scenes in the movie are the simplest, ones that don’t drive the plot — Clive and Julia scheming with wine, bantering in bed or fighting on a city street.
“Michael Clayton” fits into many genres, but satire is certainly not one of them. “Clayton” is a brutal vendetta against the greed and lust of corporate America: There is no humor involved (just Tilda Swinton’s sweaty armpits). “Duplicity” takes Gilroy’s disdain into the realm of comedy. Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson play rival executives for cosmetics companies who treat competition over shampoo, conditioner and deodorant like a modern day Cold War. They are outlandish and barbaric, hilarious caricatures of the executives in “Clayton” or even Bourne. In some scenes, it feels like Gilroy has created a “Scary Movie”-style parody of his own invented genre.
The last twist on the genre is the cinematic passion Gilroy exhibits in presenting spectacular scenery. “Duplicity” features Owen and Roberts in some of the most beautiful places in the world — Rome, the Bahamas, Switzerland. The camera lingers and lusts over the historic, towering buildings and gorgeous vistas. It’s a delight to watch.
Many filmmakers get stuck making the same movie over and over again — Judd Apatow comes to mind. In “Duplicity,” Gilroy shows a willingness to at least mix up the execution. His next film is the screenplay for “State of Play,” which is an adaptation of David Yates’ British miniseries with as complex a plot as humanly possible. Gilroy, no doubt, will do wonders with it, but there is a risk it will feel like a sequel to everything else he’s done. Expect a twist ending, shaky camera work and a structure that demands your full attention. If anything, “Duplicity” makes you hope Gilroy will learn to mix it up more thoroughly before his films devolve into stale repetition. He certainly has the talent for it.