What do Egyptian launch codes and a new frozen pizza topping have in common?
They’re both secrets that are of value to both those who know it and those who want to know it. Where there are secrets, there must be spies. Where there are spies, there must be counter-spies. And where there is conflict, there must be some sparks.
Writer-director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has produced another sharp, twisty, and very stylish thriller, this time with romance and a bit of stardust. The result is a top-notch date movie for grown-ups.
Julia Roberts plays Claire and her Closer co-star Clive Owens is Ray. They meet at an American embassy 4th of July party in Dubai and it is not clear whether their opening exchange is flirtation or something a little more professional. The same can be said of the subsequent encounter, leaving one of them triumphant and the other feeling used and embarrassed. As we go back and forth in time, pieces of the puzzle come together. Once spies for the CIA and MI6, Claire and Ray move on to the more-lucrative career of corporate espionage and perhaps the even-more lucrative career of working for themselves.
Gilroy gives the film a bit of a retro gloss, with a soundtrack that has a 70’s flavor and sleek camera effects with sliding boxes reminiscent of the original “Thomas Crown Affair.” Roberts makes a welcome return to the screen, looking less willowy and more curvy. Owen, most often seen in movies glowering or cynical, is more natural trying out a Tennessee accent than he is trying out a smile, but he has a sure sense of timing that makes the best of Gilroy’s clever banter. This movie sparkles with witty exchanges, and the back-and-forth time shifts in story-telling reveals just how much every word of that dialog matters. The stakes are not as dire as in “Michael Clayton,” but that is part of the fun, watching former top spies use all of the resources available to track down information about items sold in a grocery store. More fun is seeing how two people whose careers depend on not trusting and not being trustworthy test each other and themselves to see if they can build a lasting connection. “Duplicity” may refer to a double-cross, but this movie is double-entertaining.