Julia Roberts and Clive Own shine in Duplicity, which debut in theaters this weekend.
If you’re going to see one Julia Roberts movie this year…
Well, it should be this one. Not that Roberts necessarily has a bunch of other pictures on her slate for 2009, but let’s face it: The actress, once the darling of Hollywood who burst onto the scene with the charmer Mystic Pizza some 21 years ago, has gotten a little long in the tooth in recent times. Maybe it was that grueling Oscar acceptance speech for Erin Brockovich, or perhaps it was just a case of audiences getting too much of a good thing, but for some of us the once and future Pretty Woman hasn’t been as welcome a sight lately as she once was.
Now she’s jumping back into the spotlight after a bit of a hiatus, but fortunately for us — and for the superstar actress too perhaps — she’s doing it in style by teaming with writer-director Tony Gilroy on the espionage comedy Duplicity, which opens this weekend. Coming off the success of 2007’s Oscar nominated Michael Clayton as he is, Gilroy was poised with this follow-up to perhaps suffer from the classic sophomore slump syndrome. But he’s dodged that bullet as deftly as one of his Duplicity characters might outsmart a fellow corporate spy, and Roberts and her costar Clive Owen both come out looking like champs as a result.
Owen plays Ray Koval and Roberts is Claire Stenwick, MI6 and CIA agents respectively who first bump into one another — and bump uglies — in 2003 in Dubai, upon which Claire promptly outsmarts, drugs, and steals some precious documents from her counterpart. It’s spy-love at first sight, and through a series of interweaving flashbacks (and occasional flash-forwards) Gilroy slowly pieces together for the audience how Ray and Claire got from there to here.
Here being present-day Manhattan, where they’ve both entered the private sector of the espionage business, working for opposing cosmetics manufacturers who guard their lotion and cream secrets as vigorously as a government does its nuclear launch codes. Ray works for Paul Giamatti’s angry upstart exec and Claire is on the team of Tom Wilkinson’s old-guard boss across town, though as the film proceeds and the weaving plot reveals more and more about what has happened since that fateful time in Dubai in 2003, the question of who is working for who becomes increasingly confusing. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that Giamatti and Wilkinson hate each other fiercely, a fact which is illustrated in a loving slow-motion ballet during the opening credits.
Ultimately the labyrinthine plot is only secondary anyway to the movie-star turns by the, as it happens, movie stars in residence, Owen and Roberts. The real star, which gives the two their power of course, is Gilroy’s snappy, screwball-comedy-esque dialogue and scripting. It has its leads sparring with one another as much as — if not more than — they’re speaking sweet nothings to each other. As a matter of fact, it may be that the closest they get to sweet nothings is the duo’s constant threats to walk out on one another. Either that or Roberts’ propensity for taking her underwear off. .
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