Monday, March 30, 2009


Here’s my problem with the majority of contemporary, big budget Hollywood movies: by the end, there is little to no mystery left. But, as a majority, American filmgoers don’t want to think. They want to go to a film, sit down, be entertained for two hours, then go on with the rest of their day.

Then there’s the other filmgoer. The type that wants to see a movie that asks questions, pushes limits and makes us think. A good movie can smoothly blend both of these elements (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire). But for the most part there is a specific divide in American film: the entertainer, and the thinker.

Tony Gilroy’s first film as a director, Michael Clayton was one of the few films to successfully mesh the two together, which cannot be said for his latest, Duplicity.

I had such high hopes for this film. Even the first hour or so is great. Two ex-spies fall for each other and form a plan to rip off two competing cosmetics companies. Their plan is intricate and unique, not to mention a blast to watch. But the joy of the film is in its flashbacks. It’s a real treat to witness Julia Roberts and Clive Owen partake in lavish trysts in exotic locations such as Dubai, Miami and Rome. The two flirt, trick and amuse one another in a way that is deliciously sexy.

But as the story begins to unfold, most of the surprises are discovered all too early. By the end of the film, there is hardly any mystery left at all, everything is sugarcoated so that the average Joe will get it. So I ask: where’s the mystery? Years from now, I’ll be having a conversation with someone and they’ll ask:

“Hey remember that movie with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen?”
“Yeah, Closer, that’s a great film.”
“No, no the one where they try to trip those people off.”
“Umm… oh yeah kind of, but not really.”

My point is that films that make you think, stay with you. When every single plot element is delivered with a nice little bow, the audience will forget about the film minutes after they leave. Duplicity can be great fun at times, and it isn’t too hard on the eyes either, given Robert Elswit’s brilliant cinematography (he won an Oscar for There Will Be Blood). But it doesn’t have an ounce of staying power. Which really is a shame. C+

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