Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: Duplicity (2009)

I'd like to briefly point out a small phenomenon that only I find interesting.

Billy Ray, a screenwriter skilled in writing quickfire military/industry-speak, shot a moderately-budgeted but kickass biopic, proving his ability to direct a film. His second film contained elements that made the first film good, but was mostly a palpable step down.

Tony Gilroy, another screenwriter skilled at writing quickfire military/industry-speak, also hit the streets with a great debut and proved his worth. His second film (not to ruin the forthcoming review) was also a step down, this time a considerable gap in quality to the first one. (Asidenote: weirdly, Gilroy and Ray both wrote the script for State of Play, which is exactly why I am avoiding it).

The above formula does not bode well for Rian Johnson, who parallels closer to Tony Gilroy only in that Johnson's second film is also 1) a con film, and 2) a comedy. But here's hoping the poor kid doesn't somehow reverse the prestige built by Brick, har har

Anyway, enough of that. Duplicity (by Gilroy, remember) begins with a 'years earlier' subtitle and since this is a spy slash con film, that means 'PAY THE FUCK ATTENTION' in my language. Note the location, the attitudes, the background characters, and Clive Owen's broken leg filling the frame. Note especially every word he says to Julia Roberts since this is their first meeting. This technique is taught at the David Mamet school of filmmaking, films that will pull a con on you WITHOUT YOU KNOWING YOU WERE EVEN WATCHING A FILM ABOUT CONS and the like. Hell, watch The Sting and you'll get it: collect the pieces, put them in order before the film does it for you and makes you feel like a mowgli.

The movie builds past the opening scene and wheels into the 'current time' subtitle with Clive Owen following some guy (take notes) and brandishing a small Rubik's cube (take particular note). He finds out that his contact is Julia Roberts, gets upset, and has a slightly-clever-yet-extremely-long verbal throwdown with her. They reluctantly decide to work together. Next, cue long expositional scene of what exactly they are working on: hostile corporate backstabbings over the secret formula to some miracle product (take a fuckload of notes). Clive goes home and the film reveals a not-at-all surprising plot twist and another tedious flashback ensues (take notes, just in case). In 'current time' Clive and Roberts put their plan into motion, attempting to get their hands on the miracle formula and sell it while the two companies sue each other into oblivion. Everything is going according to plan until Clive does something stupid and Julia gets angry, casting a small ineffective seed of doubt into the mix. Bad jokes about baldness. Another tedious flashback. Bad jokes about pizza. (Take notes out of habit). Some time passes and the climax happens, which without any reason to give a shit, resorts to loud music to increase the tension. The con fails... except that it doesn't. And then it does. OR DOES IT? Throw all of your notes away, they apparently don't mean fucking anything.

So... what just happened? Fucking shit happened. Some asshole orchestrated a con offscreen, before the movie began, used two unlikable spies as pawns to make some other asshole look like a mowgli for his own amusement. That's all. And what better way to tell the story than from the perspective of characters who have so little to do with the main action of the story. Like if R2-D2 and 3-PO never left the frame while Luke and Han shot down TIE Fighters nearby.

OR all of this was a metaphor for the inherent anger and mistrust in real-life relationships, that whether you're fucking in a hotel in an idyllic foreign country or spending a bunch of time stealing a secret formula by using the wire-tapped photocopier in an office building when you could have TAKEN A PICTURE OF IT WITH YOUR FUCKING PHONE THE ENTIRE TIME, as long as you're doing it together, that's what matters.

Never mind that Mr. and Mrs. Smith did that exact same shit, but funnier. And with GUNS.

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