Sunday, March 29, 2009


Someone give Clive Owen an award -- because he really REALLY deserves one.

I first saw Owen in Robert Altman's Gosford Park. And even though I watched it in a dark dorm room, on a tiny, stained, computer screen, from a pirated VCD with dark visuals and bad sound that rendered most dialogue incomprehensible, he was still a vivid presence. Gosford Park defined the way I've always looked at Owen since: as the brooding, swarthy, lethal guy, someone you don't want to cross. This is pretty much the persona he projected in his other roles: in Spike Lee's Inside Man and above all, in Mike Nichols Closer.

In Duplicity, which reunites Owen with Closer co-star Julia Roberts, Owen manages the feat of appearing dangerous, competent and goofy, all at the same time. His character, Ray, is a spy (or whatever it is that CIA operatives are supposed to be); a very competent one, we're given to understand, who, unfortunately, goes weak in the knees when he comes face-to-face with a certain woman. And since that certain woman is played by Julia Roberts, perhaps the star of our time, I found it entirely believable. No, actually, let me change that. Owen and Roberts make it entirely believable.

This time the roles from Closer are reversed: she is pretty much in charge and he is understandably smitten by her. (Or is he? It is a testament to Owen's brooding image that I expected him to pull one over her at the last moment -- after all, no one crosses Clive Owen like that!) Writer-director Gilroy gives them lines that ricochet off each other and Roberts and Owen make the most of it. Their banter is perhaps not quite of the same intensity as Hepburn and Grant's in The Philadelphia Story. The difference -- and this is what makes Duplicity a lesser movie -- is that the barbs they trade are for fairly low stakes: they are for our enjoyment and not so that the characters come to a better understanding of each other.

Which, I should add, is clearly intentional. Duplicity is not meant to be a comedy of remarriage. It is a sparkling romance, a nimble comedy, a delicious send-up of the corporate world and a fairly tense thriller (the next-to-last scene had me at the edge of my seat), all at the same time. All this means that you may not quite get your fill of Clive and Julia (I certainly didn't). But no matter: every actor in Duplicity is brilliantly funny (and someone please give the deadpan Paul Giamatti an award too!).

All in all, Duplicity is a wonderful movie, better, in my mind, than Gilroy's last (although Michael Clayton was pretty good too). I am not sure how Clive Owen does what he does, how he manages to be competent, and goofy and besotted with Roberts, all at the same time. And while it may not be fair to say that he is the reason the movie works so well -- it is definitely an ensemble piece, and Gilroy's script and the editing are all fabulous -- I will say this: I wish he'd gotten to do Bond. Daniel Craig has certainly re-invented Bond but he's taken all the fun out of it: it's now all deadly serious. Perhaps only Clive Owen could have made Bond more menacing and more fun. Sigh.

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