I suppose I'm just hungry for an engaging tale about corporate espionage, given an occupational interest in the subject, and most times the stories usually find an easy way out in their scenarios that it all seems a little far fetched, or implausibly weak in execution because sometimes simple and effective counter-measures exist in the real world that having to see it on screen means an insult to the audience's intelligence to a certain degree.
In recent times Tony Gilroy had written and directed the excellent Michael Clayton, a tale about a corporate hatchet and fix-it man, and wrote the engaging thriller State of Play released a few weeks back. He continues his run with Duplicity, and delivers the payload in satisfying fashion, but only if you're paying careful attention to its proceedings, thanks to his rather detailed treatment of the subject, plenty of twists and turns to muddle the waters, and a non-linear narrative that will make you work hard for the result. In a way it puts you in the middle of the operations, where one conglomerate goes after his rival's impending secret in order to scoop its thunder, while also saving money on R&D by copying yet to be patented formula. It's never easy trying to assemble facts or carry out an espionage operation, and watching this film would make you feel the same sense of frustration when you're racing against time and not getting clear answers.
Clive Owen and Julia Roberts reunite for the big screen after their turn as a couple in Mike Nichols' Closer, where infidelity destroyed their relationship. Here, as ex-covert agents Ray Koval (Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Roberts), they too are faced with a predicament, especially when their personal and professional lives clash, and the occupational hazards dealing with trust, even toward each other. Having met in a function in Dubai in 2003, the couple hit off on the wrong note, where Claire inadvertently causes Ray's career to be put on the line when he ditched his professionalism for a little booty time, but a makeup rendezvous in Rome a few years later, made them both realize they were better off paired together, and hatched a plan to leave their respective agencies to head toward private enterprise where the money is.
Part of the fun here is how it also becomes a battle of the sexes, coupled with intense trust issues, that you just wouldn't know who's playing who, and who's being sincere and genuine. For the most parts, it does seem that Claire always seem to be a leg or two up (pardon the intentional pun) against Ray, though the latter sometimes managed to hold his own, but just barely. In a game of who blinks first, I guess the guys make it a point to give some chance to the ladies. Roberts and Owen seem to be having a field day too with their roles here, and this made it all the more fun to watch them go at each other, with every chance meeting being a test of their resolve to have their carefully planned mission carried out, while faced with couple issues, such as things like open and frank discussions.
What I particularly enjoyed about the film, is how the issue of trust also extended beyond the couple, and into their respective intelligence gathering, and counter-intelligence teams. Being on both sides of rival conglomerates, each have their own modus operandi, though the team for the company headed by Paul Giammati's arrogant and conniving Richard Garsik seem to be unapologetic with using whatever arsenal of methods at their disposal in order to get the job done. Suffice to say that the human link is always the weakest and easiest to be exploited, and I won't be surprised if tactics shown here do happen, that of being friendly in order to take advantage of lonely souls who open up to companionship, temporal or otherwise, in the fishing of information or unauthorized entry.
For those who are expecting a romance story, then sorry this is the wrong show. Romance is not the real deal here, but a carefully planned corporate espionage adventure this is instead, and one which kept my interest piqued through its wits and smartness, going into the shortlist for one of the best I've seen thus far.