By Roger Moore
“Duplicity” is a romantic comedy with spies, a heist picture with sex and a corporate intrigue thriller filled with funny banter.
It re-teams Julia Roberts with one of the few leading men who can hold his own with her, Clive Owen, serves her up as another sassy leading lady with legs and gives us yet another taste of how Owen might have played James Bond.
All this from the fellow who made “Michael Clayton,” a dry, dark and much more sinister look at malignant malfeasance among the Fortune 500.
“Duplicity” sparkles with wit from the first time MI-6 spy Ray eyes CIA spook Claire at a July 4 party at the U.S. consulate in Dubai.
“I thought we were checking each other out.”
“Maybe you were drunk.”
“If I was drunk, I’d be coming on to you.”
Clothes are shed, tender embraces shared, and doggone if Ms. Undercover America doesn’t rob Mr. Brit-who-should-know-better under the covers.
Cut to years later: He spots her in another city and launches into a nasty spiel.
“A little professional courtesy would make this a lot less awkward!”
“You’re harassing me!”
And back and forth it goes. They’ve moved on from their government gigs. They’re spying for the big boys now, the corporations. They might work together well. If only they can get past their trust issues.
But Julia and Clive aren’t the only winning couple here. In the opening credits, we see a (silent, slow-motion) meltdown between two titans of commerce, a raging rant in the private-plane corner of a major airport that ends with the chief of one gigantic consumer products firm (Tom Wilkinson, also in “Michael Clayton”) tackling the head of another (Paul Giamatti).
Their lip-smacking loathing, their paranoia, is what drives “Duplicity.” All the flirting, the flitting back and forth through the years of Claire and Ray’s “relationship” is underscored by the instinctual mistrust between their two employers.
Director Tony Gilroy deftly mixes comedy with suspense as we see the extreme measures corporations take to steal one another’s secrets and protect their own from theft. The spy ware here would leave Tom Clancy slack-jawed.
Best of all, Gilroy shot this and had it edited and scored like a sexy, ’60s caper picture — conga drums and horns, split screens, spy jargon (SDLqMoscow rules”) and tense moments when “we’re blown” could end the whole operation — very “Thomas Crown Affair.”