Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



Oscar Predictions

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Film #386


A pair of corporate spies who share a steamy past hook up to pull off the ultimate con job on their respective bosses.

Year 2, Film #21

THE REVIEW: Something that struck me as I was watching Duplicity is that there aren’t really many spy films. I’m not sure if this has always been the case, but instead of spy films today we get action films with bits of espionage thrown in. The last real spy film from this marathon was way back in May with The Informant! and even then that was more comedy than spy film. Now maybe I’m missing something or maybe there weren’t even that many spy films back in the mid to late 1900s when James Bond hit the silver screen, but the bottom line here is that Duplicity is a pretty good espionage film that’s tailored to our current corporate society.

The two big players are Burkett & Randle, led by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), and Equikrom, led by Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti). These two CEOs have a big rivalry and are constantly fighting each other to be the first to market so they can dominate the field. To do this, they each have their own counter-intelligence teams, each spying on the other company. Claire Stenwich (Julia Roberts) works for Equikrom but has infiltrated B&R, Ray Koval (Clive Owen) also works for Equikrom, but in reality, both Claire and Ray are working in cahoots to steal whatever it is they find and beat both companies to market so they can cash in on a cool $40 million payday. There’s a lot of suspense, mystery, and intrigue throughout the film as the back and forth between the companies, the agents, and every other possible connection unfolds. It’s all presented in a clear and straightforward way yet still prompts questions every now and again to keep you guessing. The film isn’t so mindless you can just sit back and not think for two hours, but it’s also not overly complicated where you can’t follow anything and are frustrated the entire time (I’m looking at you, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

But as with Julia Roberts’ Eat Pray Love yesterday, there are some fundamental issues I have with Duplicity. The biggest of which is the incessant use of flashbacks. Unlike yesterday where I had a problem with the narration and visual style throughout the film, I actually think the flashbacks were helpful in some scenes; most notably at the beginning and end. In Duplicity the flashbacks are used as a way to hold back key pieces of information from the audience until the appropriate time and, as a result, provide a more shocking reveal than could have been achieved in a purely linear fashion. Like I said, the flashback at the end (which I won’t describe for obvious spoiler reasons) and one or two in the beginning (which I won’t describe not necessarily for spoilers, but to keep the mystery for those who’ll watch) accomplished this shocking reveal well. The same can’t be said for the numerous flashbacks in the middle of the film that did little more than show a storyline, that while strictly relevant to the main plot, really could have been done without. All the flashbacks, the middle ones included, deal with how Claire and Ray got to where they are in the present day. After the first couple which provided some necessary context, and some minor shocks, all the flashbacks did was bore with pointless conversations about how the frozen pizza industry is a $1 billion industry (and apparently the Hawaiian flavor is going to be all the rage). 

The film would have been better served, and much more interesting, if they stayed focused on what it excels at: watching lying, manipulating, and thieving people look out for themselves and trying to fiscally hurt their opponents. It’s not often you get to see an espionage film not packed with explosions and gunfights; don’t mess it up by including pointless non sequiturs that only elaborate on a storyline not vital to the main plot. Duplicity has a lot of originality and a lot to enjoy and isn’t a bad film to spend your Sunday afternoon watching. But it’s not a film you’d want to keep watching over and over again, anytime night or day.

THE RATING: 3 out of 5