CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and Ray Koval (Owen), of Britain's MI6 (Bond's old outfit), have hooked up romantically and professionally and decided to "go private" — into the lucrative realm of corporate espionage — in order to score enough money to retire in the high-flying style to which they've become accustomed. (Claire figures $40 million should do it.) They don't really trust each other, and as the movie's brain-teasing pranks and double-crosses pile up, neither do we.
Ray and Claire have hired themselves out to a big soap-and-lotions corporation run by a ruthless mogul named Garsik (
Like the Bond films, and the "Bourne" movies, too (Gilroy was a key writer on all three of those), "Duplicity" logs extensive flight time, touching down everywhere from Dubai and the Bahamas to London, Rome and Zurich, with brief layovers in Miami (where we learn a bit about the unexpected espionage opportunities in the frozen-pizza industry) and, uh, Cleveland. The dialogue is so smart and snappy, it'd be wrong to reproduce any of it at length. Let us only note that when Claire accuses Ray of having seduced a female target, his wounded reply is "That's my cover."
The picture has a unity of wit and structure that could only have been achieved by a very sharp writer who's also a gifted filmmaker. (One with excellent taste in collaborators, too — you could put your brain on snooze and have a perfectly fine time savoring the rich color and elegant camera moves of cinematographer Robert Elswit, one of several "Michael Clayton" alumni who worked on the picture.) Apart from the dazzling plot choreography, one of Gilroy's smartest strategies was to allow Roberts to dial down her all-devouring smile in favor of a more deadpan, reactive performance, allowing Owen's warm comedic agility to take wing. Are Ray and Claire really in love, or just in league? We're never entirely sure. "I think about you all the time," he declares, in a moment of possible passion. "I think about you even when you're with me."
Check out everything we've got on "Duplicity."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.