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Duplicity...and How Sucking at Math is OK

Movie title: Duplicity (2009)
Spoilers ahead: No

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Most of us know the feeling. You're sitting in math class studiously staring at the board. The arched frown on your face almost touches the floor. You fear the intense concentration beginning to bring on a headache and a touch of perspiration. Flooding your mind are those self-esteem-bludgeoning questions: “Am I the only one this confused?” “Is it a good idea to announce that I'm totally lost or should I wait for someone else to go first?” Now you've got that headache. You can feel your blood pressure as it rises.

You needn't be ashamed if this describes you. It does me. That unpleasant feeling of being confused may be extra noticeable in brain-twisting subjects like math, but the feeling has been known to surface in areas germane to our consideration—movies.

There's no slam against you to admit it. A movie can have a person confounded as easily as a math problem, and never has this been a more common thing than today when movies are out to trick you. Too numerous to mention are the well-known and loved films that expressly try to trick and keep you in the dark for as long as they want you there (the Saw series and American Psycho immediately come to mind).

But it's one thing to possess information and another thing to convey that information so that another may possess it. Therein is the problem for many an otherwise great movie—they don't sufficiently unravel their mysteries. The commonly used rapid-fire flashback method has become tiresome by now. And I, for one, find it conceited for a movie to try and trick me as opposed to entertain me. There is an unforgivable arrogance there that I just can’t get past.

Distinguish, please, between a predictable plot and an understandable one. One is clich├ęd, lacking in creativity and advanced thinking; the other is ingenious and intellectually teasing, but always succinctly logical.

Duplicity, despite its grace and excellent craft, is weighed in the balances and found wanting. The enhancing presences of Julia Roberts and the always impassioned Clive Owen could not save it from the stagnation of a frustratingly confusing plot that manages to bring math class right back to the forefront of your mind.

Roberts seemed detached. This was not her best work. Owen held his own, but it was the presence of both that made Duplicity the eyes-glued-to-the-screen event that it was, at least until just past the halfway marker. At that point, the confusing plot began to foster a sense of indifference.

If you want to know what Duplicity is really about, focus for a few moments on the title. From Dictionary.com, “duplicity”…

–noun,
1. deceitfulness in speech or conduct; speaking or acting in two different ways concerning the same matter with intent to deceive; double-dealing.
2. a twofold or double state or quality.

The Aleve-worthy Duplicity features two attractive people who are as dishonest with each other as they are with their employers, and it doesn’t matter to them that trust is a make-it-or-break-it job commodity in their fields. If Mr. and Mrs. Smith left you in some way unsatisfied, try Roberts and Owen as Ray Koval and Claire Stenwick. They’re a team, charming and more sophisticated for sure, but believably so, in a way that Jolie and Pitt are not. Paul Giamatti as Richard Garsick is one of the best supporting actors today, and he doesn’t stop being here. He only looks like a desperate, out-of-work conman or a car salesman.

The entire film is an at first intriguing and then tiring exercise in trying to figure out who’s on who’s side and who will get burned. Loving mysteries will help. Being a genius or a detective will really help, but not to foresee the ending. An end that borders on predictable is a little bit of a let-down. For the amount of mental anguish endured, I expected a little more of a pay-off.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: Two agents discover an opportunity to go rogue from their intelligence agencies.
Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Clive Owen “Ray Koval,” Claire Stenwick “Julia Roberts,” Tom Wilkinson “Howard Tully,” Paul Giamatti “Richard Garsik,” Dan Daily “Garsik's Aide”
Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller / Romance

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