Duplicity (2009) is one of the more aptly titled thriller/comedies I have seen in recent memory. Since incorporating a twist or two has become the en vogue method of flaunting cinematic ingenuity, this take on corporate espionage within the cosmetics industry (I can imagine how difficult it must be to sell a movie just on that premise) could be considered to have earned an honors degree in narrative trickery. Within the first fifteen minutes, you realize that this cinema is not just being playful with context but is actually daring you to accept the validity of any particular scene (making it not easily digestible escapist fare).
Befitting the theme of coy deception, our leads, Ray Koval (Clive Owens) and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), are employed by British MI:6 and the C.I.A. respectfully when they first become acquainted at a party in Dubai. Ray lays down his best pickup lines resulting in a sexual tryst mingled with some counter-intelligence or maybe it’s the other way around. While, at the outset, you are not sure exactly who is playing whom, it seems obvious which of the pair is left embarrassed, and possibly jilted, at not having the upper hand the next morning.
When Ray and Claire’s lives intersect for the second time (five years later in Manhattan and current time story wise) at crucial, overlapping junctures in their careers (you may be wondering how and why they got mixed up in the cosmetic’s game), the dialog is deliciously teasing, as one will not even admit to knowing the other, and the verbal sparring mirrors the mental “spy vs. spy” duel enacted. When the couple meets for the second time, for the second time, you begin to realize in what manner the film is playing you.
Writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) does have a purposeful method to his storytelling beyond all the “pulling the rug out from underneath you” revelations that becomes evident as you allow yourself to trust the non-linearly structured flashbacks. We uncover our romantically entangled twosome involved in reconnaissance work around the next big thing in beauty care hoping to score a “retirement sized” payoff so they can leave the spy racket behind. Along the way we receive glimpses into the maniacal egos of antagonistic cosmetic C.E.O.’s (employers of our spy duo and driving forces behind the consistent two-timing) portrayed by Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, Batman Begins) and Paul Giamatti (American Splendor, Sideways) who engage in an awesome slow motion fistfight over the opening credits.
I was so psyched following the complexities of this spy farce that I expected a truly over the top finale. Thankfully that is not the case and, after letting it soak in, the wrap-up delivered is very apropos for a story so steeped in double crosses. While there is one last twist, it is tasteful with a subtle touch of humor tying the espionage and romance threads together. However, if you are anticipating a crazy revelation to trump all that came before, Duplicity’s ending may come off anticlimactic.
Universal drops Duplicity onto Blu-ray with a 1080p 2.40:1 framed VC-1 encoded transfer that I imagine, never having seen the flick theatrically, does justice to the naturalistic imagery. The visual canvas is very colorful with great saturation displaying bluish tints in far off windows of New York skyscrapers, the reddish hue of Robert’s hair and skin tones highlighting the rosy cheeks or ruddiness of actor’s complexions. Blacks are solid with good shadow delineation, grain is even and minimal throughout and detail is for the most part noticeable though not quite as strong in close ups as I would have expected. From a technical perspective, there is nothing wrong here (no obvious DNR, EE, print damage or digital artifacts) with my main qualm being that it’s not an amazing stylistic presentation (which is probably intentional).
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix provides decent sound support but never impresses in a showy fashion. Dialog is competently rendered from the center with most of the movie’s happenings, including the bouncy, playfully appropriate score, evenly spread across the three front channels. The rears and sub are brought into use sporadically but not in any commendable manner. Considering this is more of a dialog driven track than heavily action laden, the lossless audio serves the film well in its front anchored performance.
Dubbed audio is available in French and Spanish 5.1 DTS mixes, and subtitles are available in English (SDH), Spanish and French.
Commentary – The sole extra is a feature length audio commentary from writer/directory Tony Gilroy and producer/editor John Gilroy. While by no means the most entertaining track, the brothers give informative background on much of the production (a lot of attention is paid to how the writing, editing, shooting and location scouting came together) spurred on by the context of each scene.
Soon after stating he does not want to be the director who gushes about his actors, Tony proceeds to do just that with numerous accolades to all the main players. There is much interesting banter revolving around the opening scene in Dubai not being originally included and how it changes the context of the subsequent plot twists. Also noted is that Duplicity was written for Steven Soderbergh and passed through the hands of David Fincher and Steven Spielberg before Gilroy got to direct his own script.
BD-Live – The BD-Live portal gives access to many Universal trailers but no exclusive content for the film.
Duplicity is an enjoyable, yet mostly frivolous, take on the spy genre with some romantic comedy thrown in for good measure. Normally I can barely stand to sit through anything Julia Roberts does (I liked her in Oceans 11, so maybe crime/caper themed flicks make her palatable to my tastes), but she comes off quite pleasant exchanging heated barbs with Clive Owens, who is terrific as usual. While I found the plot’s mental gymnastics to be an exhilarating narrative exercise, it is understandable that to many the film may be too clever for its own good.
Universal’s Blu-ray sports a nice high-def transfer and decent supporting audio. This is definitely not a demo disc but was never intended to be, and you’ll be so caught up following the plot convolutions, you will not pay much attention to the a/v anyway. The extras are minimal with the commentary filling the gap for any background info. I am guessing the relatively poor box office returns did not entice the studio to put much effort into supplements. While I would not recommend this high-def disc as a blind buy, it is worth checking out; just be sure to pay attention.
– Robert Searle
Shop for Duplicity on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.