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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

TONY Gilroy has admitted that Duplicity was once conceived as a romantic caper movie that Steven Soderbergh would direct. It probably would then have starred George Clooney.

Instead, owing to delays, Gilroy decided to direct the screenplay he wrote himself and Clooney recommended Clive Owen for the part who, in turn, suggested an on-screen reunion with his Closer co-star Julia Roberts. The result feels like a slick combination of the caper qualities of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies with the classic elements of Hitchcock’s Charade.

As fun as the film consistently remains, however, there are still problems – and Duplicity often feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be too many things.

Ray Koval (Owen) is an MI6 operative who is seduced and then outwitted by CIA nemesis Claire Stenwick (Roberts) while on his latest mission. Over the ensuing years, the pair continue “bumping into each other”, and revel in the playful banter and obvious sexual chemistry that exists between them.

But when Ray decides they should team up to ensure that a game of corporate espionage between two rival companies works to their mutual advantage, the stage is set for the ultimate game of trust between them – while their rival bosses (played by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti) attempt to outwit each other over the identity of a mystery new product.

Just as he did with his brilliant debut Michael Clayton, writer-director Gilroy shows a keen eye for corporate detail and strong characterisation, opting to put the focus on mind games and deceit rather than any gadgets, car chases or explosions.

He also delivers a witty script that positively crackles with the sexual tension between Ray and Claire, who almost always rise to the challenge of delivering it in the classic style of Cary Grant and company.

But as clever, twisting and consistently watchable as Duplicity remains, Gilroy cannot manage to pull off the ultimate con – by deceiving viewers into thinking it’s better than it really is.

The corporate shenanigans are sometimes impenetrable, while just occasionally some of the free-flowing dialogue between Owen and Roberts feels staged. Their chemistry isn’t quite as easy-going and effortless as the past masters they are trying to emulate.

The “twist” ending also underwhelms slightly. It’s undoubtedly clever, but may leave many viewers feeling slightly deceived themselves… and not necessarily in a good way.

But if you’re prepared to go with the flow, Duplicity is slick, stylish fun that shows Gilroy has learned well from time spent in the company of the likes of Clooney and Soderbergh, while Roberts and Owen’s easy-going camaraderie rubs off nicely too. It’s not the classic it could have been, but retains an intelligence that’s refreshing for this kind of caper experience.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 125mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 27, 2009