Despite possessing an impressive cast, spy movie Duplicity fails to set the screen alight, writes Seán McGovern.

THE ESPIONAGE THRILLER has been a solid cinematic stalwart for decades – sexy and exhilarating, with lashings of treachery and doubt. Duplicity, written and directed by Tony Gilroy and starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, sadly disappoints on all counts. It amazes that a film which features exotic locations and beautiful people can be so terribly clinical.


Owen and Roberts play Ray Koval and Claire Stenwick, ex-MI6 and CIA agents. After a frosty introduction involving seduction and betrayal, they meet again five years later, now working as agents for opposing cosmetic corporations.

Admirably, the film is detailed enough to create an espionage plot that does not revert to the stereotypes of the genre. However, regardless of this deviation from a traditional story, the film ultimately fails on account of this fact.

Owen and Roberts are unbelievable as agents of any kind, especially as they try to inject sex appeal into such things as frozen pizza and cures for baldness. The two leads, having already played opposite each other in the film Closer (for which Owen was admired and Roberts generally panned) are terrible together in Duplicity.

The audience is supposed to believe that these two have overwhelming amounts of love for one another. Yet the chemistry between them is awkward, wooden and absolutely excruciating at times, to such an extent it is almost insulting to the viewer.

Meanwhile, the dialogue is risible at best and the humour is weak. The only snort of laughter from the audience comes from the line, “what was your objective, rug burn?”

The direction on the film by Tony Gilroy is slick and stylised, keeping up with the pace of the frenetic, but muddled plot. Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti are the only actors who keep the pace moving and the audience alert, making Owen and Roberts look much worse in comparison.

Ultimately, Duplicity fails because it is not interesting enough to sustain the momentum. The plot is far too dull to make the audience invest their emotions in the characters and the crises which unfold throughout.

It also overwhelmingly disappoints because both Roberts and Owen are far too talented to be in a film as sub-standard as this one. Sterile and rigid, Duplicity is neither exciting nor involving and thus, the film basically amounts to two hours of tedium.

Rating: 1/5