funny how crusading liberal movie stars love to play crooks-such as julia roberts' role as claire stenwick, a double-dealing cia agent in duplicity. like george clooney, denzel washington, brad pitt and matt damon, roberts doesn't seem to realize her own duplicity in selling the romance of greed. duplicity takes movie-star hypocrisy even further: claire competes with former mi6 agent roy koval (clive owens) as a private-sector antagonist, then as a lover. deceit and sexual disloyalty define their relationship, and writer-director tony gilroy seals it with a final-reel kiss. his own duplicitous conceit ensures that an exposé of political and commercial corruption will not extend to hollywood. duplicity should have been titled venality.
gilroy again ransacks 1970s cinema in the attempt to sell hip cynicism as he did in michael clayton. first, gilroy rips off three days of the condor and network-touchstones of glib politics. but impenetrable plot convolutions involving competitive hair product manufacturers come right out of 1973's the sting. this lousy amalgam recalls steven soderbergh's oceans franchise, offering outdated escapism and celebrity worship. that's why gilroy reunites roberts and owen (from the misanthropic non-hit closer) in roles that imitate brangelina in the wildly unethical mr. and mrs. smith, yet with picaresque names like chinatown.
a third-rate director, gilroy evinces a shallow grasp of pop mythology. he stages a thong joke as if it were a supreme court interrogation. his contrived spy/love/business story tests one's tolerance for "fun" music cues, "excitement" music cues; "clever" narrative tropes ("18 months earlier," "12 months earlier," "five weeks later," etc. ); meaningless split-screen montages; and shameless romantic close-ups. the closing clinch between claire and roy is bland because roberts is past her prime (my best friend's wedding). looking as tired as she did in ocean's eleven, roberts doesn't convey a single sincere emotion. what good's a romantic star who can't inspire fantasy? or whose only fantasy left is hawking luxe and irresponsibility?
by opening this week, duplicity works to dispel the bernard madoff scandal. the likely box-office success for its sexy-funny celebration of big business conniving and domestic distrust only means that roberts, owen and gilroy have made off with the public's trust. -- duplicity directed by tony gilroy runtime: 125 min.