' Cinema Romantico: Duplicity

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Duplicity

There is a marvelous moment maybe a third of way into writer/director Tony Gilroy's second feature film when a scene that has already happened happens again at a different time in a different place for different reasons and you know what? It's just as entertaining as it was that first time.

Like his first feature, "Michael Clayton", this one is eminently watchable. "Duplicity" is, I suppose, a thriller with twists and turns but I could not care less about the sleight of hand. I've said it before, I don't like to guess ahead when I watch movies. I want to live moment to moment and Gilroy makes every moment worth the price of admission. Well, almost, but we'll get to that later.

Consider a sequence over the opening credits. The movie is about two rival business magnates played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. We see a long shot of two private jets on a rainy tarmac opposite each other. We see the two men marching toward each other, yelling. We see them get into a fist-fight. But it's all done in extreme slow motion. And is almost unfathomably hilarious. I was laughing out loud, literally, the whole time. This is how the movie chooses to establish their immense dislike for one another. It could have been some standby exposition-laden opening but, nope, we get riotous slow motion fisticuffs with facial expressions from the two actors so wonderous I won't even attempt any colorful descriptions. I mean, I could write about this scene for days and days. You're probably thinking I've overhyped it for you but, nope, trust me, I haven't. It's un-overhypable It is just so entertaining, so....watchable. (In fact, it pairs brilliantly with the closing credits sequence from "Michael Clayton" when you watch George Clooney not do anything in a back of a cab for five minutes and think, "Damn, why is this so gripping?")

Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are Ray and Claire. They are employed, respectively, in the counter intelligence (or something like that) departments of Giamatti's company, Equikrom, and Wilkinson's company, Burkett & Randle. Burkett & Randle is set to make a prophetic announcement about a new product. Giamatti wants to steal this product for himself. It turns out, however, that Claire is, in fact, a mole within Burkett & Randle and working for Equikrom. Ray is made her "handler", a fact which does not sit well with Claire. Except then the movie flashes back and we realize that, in fact, Ray and Claire are working together. Except maybe they are trying to play each other. And God knows what else may be going on.

Are there plot holes amidst all these duplicitous developments? Undoubtedly. Maybe another viewer can nitpick for you and find them but I'm not the guy to do it because it doesn't matter to me. I was too busy having fun.

This is a movie that is all about style and chemistry. I'm beginning to really like Clive Owen and this is a good role for Madam Julia. She doesn't have to emote real feelings and instead plays a kinda heightened reality. (Have you ever noticed how Julia Roberts walks in movies. She walks like a person who knows she is walking in a movie.) The only real acting she does involves sitting across a table from another woman and remaining expressionless. Perfect! Julia can handle that, no problem! They work well together and their lines crackle and they globe trot to so many locales (even Cleveland!) that I lost track at some point. Attempting to ascertain who was playing who was the furthest thing from my mind.

It's why I utterly loathed the second-to-last scene. I will tread carefully and not reveal specific details. I will simply say it is a classic Explanatory Scene. Maybe it needed to be there so people wouldn't be confused. But in the scene that follows the audience, I would argue, should be feeling exactly like Clive and Julia. But they aren't, and they aren't because of that Explanatory Scene.

It makes me think of those two fantastic sequences in "Burn After Reading" with J.K. Simmons and David Rasche at Langley - since when was making complete sense a requirement for rollicking entertainment?

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