Duplicity (US - BD)
Our Gabe grows tired the duplicitous crimes of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts
Two years ago Ray Koval (Clive Owen), an MI6 agent, and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), a CIA agent, fell in love and hatched a plan to play two multi-billion dollar companies against each other. Their victims are Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), the CEO of Burkett & Randle, and Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti), the CEO of Equikrom, both powerful men with a shared powerful hatred of each other. But as the ruse begins to wrap up mistrust brews between Koval and Stenwick as their natural suspicions get the better of them. So the question is: who’s playing who?
As if the unassuming title wasn’t a cue, Duplicity is about an average a film as anyone could ever muster, from the top of its handsome head, to the bottom of its over-plotted toes. Screenwriter turned director Tony Gilroy offers a tight knit script, shoots his film like the most handsome law firm ad you’ve ever seen, and gets solid performances out of big name cast of Oscar winners and nominees. Gilroy also wins points for finding a spot within his comfort zone to play it a little lighter than usual. Duplicity takes place within the realms of secret agent antics and corporate espionage, but brings a much more light hearted touch out of the guy behind clever, but relatively humourless, Bourne scripts, and the writer/director of the deathly serious Michael Clayton.
However, despite the narrative puzzle fitting together quite snugly, Gilroy’s story is often overwhelmed with excess fat and gristle. I personally found my mind wondering as the film took almost half an hour getting around to laying an actual plot on the line, then almost fell asleep about half way through the two-plus hour runtime. Despite the gorgeous camera work the images ring hallow with surface layer beauty. Visually speaking Duplicity is such a direct descendant of Michael Clayton it’s practically a sequel. Both films are super-slick, cool to the touch, and ultimately about as realistic and relatable as George Lucas’ digital vistas. The mix of these equally numbing shortcomings turned my particular brain to jelly. I have to admire the craft, but I don’t find myself enjoying the process, even when I don’t see the twists coming (which admittedly I mostly didn’t).
Gilroy’s comfort zone plays pretty well. The intricacies of the plot are reasonably clever, and the dialogue is full of barrel-chested, long-winded diatribes. When things skew towards humour the product is lacking (save the opening slow-motion duke out between Giamatti and Wilkinson), and worse, the love story is stale due to relatively uninteresting characters. Recalling his work as a writer, it seems that Gilroy’s characters are only ever as good as his actors, but this time even relatively palpable chemistry between the leads doesn’t make the romance any more intriguing. When Roberts and Owen start getting mushy towards the end of the film it rings hallow, because of this lack of intrigue, and because it undermines the playful nature of their relationship.
Director Tony Gilroy fills the screen with so many perfect and clean images even this top end Blu-ray struggles to keep up. There’s a whole lot of white in this film, and thanks to the advent of 1080p high definition the frame remains as sparkly clean as I’ve seen recently. There is some obvious film grain throughout, but nothing particularly thick or hard to overlook, and digital noise is basically non existent. The lighting is pretty soft, but it is overwhelming in its brightness. This means blacks are black, and whites are white, but the contrast itself isn’t too hard edged. Colours are as clean as the whites, and evenly blend. The focus is often pretty shallow, so the entire frame isn’t often super sharp, but the objects in focus are swimming with sharp, life-like details. The only shortcoming I can come up with is a little bit of noise around edges affected by the shallow focus.
There isn’t room for unnecessary ambiance in Gilroy’s plasticized world, and there isn’t a whole lot of action to keep the channels busy. A lot of the incidental noise is played through the centre channel, while the stereo and surround channels are mostly filled with basic ambiance like chirping birds and street noise. Directional effects include basics like opening and closing doors, and vehicles moving from stage front to stage rear. The best thing about the entire film is James Newton Howard’s amazingly capable score. Howard mixes several styles, both traditional and modern, and finds a use for almost every instrument at his disposal. The score is memorable without drawing unneeded attention to itself, and rarely repeats itself. The mix mostly delegates the music to the front three channels, and features a heavy bass presence that doesn’t overwhelm the dialogue or important sound effects.
It’s actually been a while since I saw such a major release with so few extras. The only thing here in terms of supplementary material is a relatively informative, but kind of dull commentary track with writer/director Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy. I imagine that Tony thinks he’s being charming, but he mostly comes off as kind of abrasive and big-headed, while John Gilroy sneaks in only a couple words under the wire. Towards the very end of the film Tony has an almost shockingly defensive moment where he tries undercutting a possible complaint concerning Giamatti’s character, but other than this it’s a pretty uneventful track.
Duplicity is average with a capital ‘meh’. It does the job, but with only a few inspired moments, and some decent performances to keep the familiar plot rolling. Folks that positively adore the actors, or those that wish there was a fourth Oceans movie on the block need apply only. Personally I just recommend looking for James Newton Howard’s score on CD. The Blu-ray looks nearly perfect, and sounds great, even considering its rather minor sound design. Extras include only a charmless commentary track.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 25th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Dan Daily
Genre: Comedy, Crime and Romance
Length: 125 minutes
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