‘Duplicity’ cast, dialogue lifts movie’s cluttered plot

Posted March 22, 2009, at 10:43 p.m.

In theaters

DUPLICITY, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, 125 minutes, rated PG-13.

The new Tony Gilroy caper, “Duplicity,” doesn’t come close to achieving the highs of his last movie, “Michael Clayton,” but it does have its moments, most of which come from the pleasures of its cast, which possesses enough talent and presence to lift a plot so unnecessarily cluttered, it’s a gimmick.

The trouble with the movie is that it involves a nonlinear structure that’s so fractured, you wonder how much better it might have been had it just been told straight. Since Gilroy could have achieved the desired effect of keeping his audience off-kilter by merely holding back through better writing, the slicing and dicing of the time structure grows repetitive and tiresome.

That said, this isn’t a film without energy; it does feature several terrific supporting performances and its dialogue can be brisk and smart.

The movie stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in their first pairing since 2004’s “Closer.” Here, they are former CIA agent Claire Stenwick and former British MI6 agent Ray Koval, two people who have lived duplicitous lives for so long, what are they to do when their emotions threaten to get in the way? Since trust is an issue for each — they have, after all, been trained to live a lie — they mostly keep their relationship down to sex and to business over the two years the movie charts.

Given the sheer amount of junk in this movie, let’s give just the plot basics: Claire and Ray want to pull off a scam in the private sector that would allow them to make off with millions so they could quit the business and live their lives together elsewhere. They have the experience to pull off such a feat, but finding the right opportunity is key, and so they wait for it to come.

When it does, it’s through their connections to two competing businessmen — Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti), who hate each other with such venom, they give the film its funniest scene in its opening moments.

Working the angles with their other connections, Claire and Ray struggle to trust each other while duping a host of players along the way. Should they pull off the impossible in a scam that involves getting hold of the chemical compound that cures baldness, the payoff is huge — $40 million on the black market, which they’ll split evenly. Or will they? Given their moral integrity, either could run off with the money.

Watching the film, you know what Gilroy is aiming for — one of those ultra-hip, abstract entertainments favored by such directors as Steven Soderberg and David Mamet — but the effort, while beautiful to look at for all sorts of reasons (the people, the locations, the clothes), falls short.

There’s nothing like telling a story cleanly and well, and that’s where “Duplicity” stumbles — it has been manufactured with so many quirks, it has had the life squeezed out of it. Making matters worse are its characters, who are so cold, you never like them they way Gilroy hoped you would. And so you view the movie from the outside, watching the chaos unravel within the attractive scenery, but never really becoming emotionally invested in the story or the characters along the way.

Grade: C+

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

QUANTUM OF SOLACE, directed by Marc Forster, written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, 106 minutes, rated PG-13.

“Quantum of Solace” overcomes its bum title and risible theme song by offering audiences one of last year’s most intense, satisfying action movies.

Director Marc Forster deepens the work done before him by Martin Campbell, whose smashing 2006 film, “Casino Royale,” was an origins movie designed to take a fictional figure made popular by Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and others, and infuse him with a back story meant to explain how, in this case, Bond became Bond.

That’s still true here, with Forster’s movie picking up where “Royale” left off in this, the franchise’s first sequel. As the movie opens, we’re in Northern Italy, and Bond (Daniel Craig) is caught in the throes of a gripping car chase in an effort to nail those who killed the love of his life, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), in the last film.

And yet in spite of his stoic appearance, Bond can’t fully conceal his confliction — he is so certain that Vesper betrayed him, it haunts him. Still, onward he pushes in a tale that involves not only his efforts to bring down those who murdered Vesper, but also a larger story that finds him working overtime to cripple Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a phony environmentalist seeking to secure his future by leading a terrorist ring determined to corner a major stake in one critical world resource. No, not oil — water.

To do so, Greene and company will need to take down governments and corrupt officials. To stymie them, Bond, looking ridiculously fashionable even when covered in blood, will need to be ruthless while trying to handle a furious M (Judi Dench, marvelously marching in and out of rooms, usually with an entourage), whose trust in him is waning.

Two other women enter into the picture. First is Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), whose relationship with Greene goes deeper than the sex they shared, and Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), an MI6 agent who allows the film an image that might become as iconic as one from “Goldfinger.”

More so than in “Royale,” which gave Bond a fleeting moment of happiness, it’s rage that drives this movie, little else, barely even wit. While there are a few flashes of the latter here, particularly when M aggressively slathers night cream on her face while she barks at Bond, “Quantum of Solace” otherwise is a serious movie whose focus is on revenge and the superlative action that stems from it.

Roaming the world, this is a movie pressed with urgency, and while sometimes the action is a bit muddled by the chaotic editing, that’s a quibble. Those who come away from this movie bored might want to have their pulses checked.

Grade: B+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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