Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9TaEY0N0tU
Trust can be a difficult thing. You can have every reason in the world to trust someone. Every thing about a person could scream credibility,yet inevitably you must make the choice that, “I believe what they tell me.” With a title like Duplicity, it is easy to guess that the issue of trust is central. Here are two bright, good-looking people whose lives are deception that make the choice to believe one another. Writer/director Tony Gilroy is familiar with such themes – he’s the same guy who brought us Michael Clayton. Whereas his directorial debut was brooding and introspective, his latest release is upbeat and fun.
Ray (Clive Owen) is an MI6 agent who meets Claire (Julia Roberts), a CIA operative. She fucks him, drugs him, and steals his intel – he’s understandably pissed. They meet again in the most unlikely of circumstances. They’ve jettisoned the public sector for more lucrative corporate work. What’s more, they are working for bitter rivals. Claire’s boss Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) has his hands on an amazing product, one that Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) desperately craves. Ray and Claire plan to steal the product for themselves, and sell it to a third party for a hefty fee. In order to accomplish this, these two must trust each other. But with so many levels of deception, the possibility of complete trust becomes increasingly dim. During their trysts, Ray and Claire invent every plausible reason to doubt their relationship. Raising such doubts is integral to their job, and perhaps they cherish their moments of playful psychological warfare. For them, it must be a turn-on.
You remember that last scene in Michael Clayton, right? That thrilling one where George Clooney cleverly shows Tilda Swinton what it’s like? Yeah, well Duplicity is that scene extrapolated to feature length. I don’t mean that as a bad thing. Movies consisting of banter between two smart, good-looking stars set in exotic locales are as old as Hollywood itself. We know that Owen and Roberts have considerable chemistry from their powerful work in Closer, so there’s no doubt that they shine her. All the supporting players, Giamatti and Wilkinson in particular, have their moment to shine. Those two must have relished their slow-motion fight sequence that opened the movie. Gilroy infuses his movie with a style that’s reminiscent of the Ocean’s Eleven series. Both movies even have scenes at the front of Rome’s Pantheon. Gilroy’s style is marginally less flashy – he trust his audience can fellow the erudite script and complex plot mechanics. Even with such an intricate story, the story is easy to follow, and I was never once confused. More importantly, when the twist finally comes (shocker), it is not out of left field.
Duplicity is like a glass of champagne. It’s bubbly, it’s sweet, it’s familiar, and it does not linger long after it’s gone. It should come as no coincidence that Owen and Roberts consume about seven bottles over the movie’s duration. You know, I’m writing this review a mere hour after walking after leaving the theater. Had I waited until Sunday to sit at my laptop, I might have had difficulty recalling everything. There are a slew of interesting new releases this week, and while Duplicity may not be the best, it’s (probably) the most entertaining. I said earlier that I didn’t see the end coming. The mystery product, however, I guessed almost immediately. Let’s just say that anyone who knows me will understand why.
Here are classic examples in which a male/female team attempt subterfuge (with varying degrees of success):
Double Indemnity. Anyone who watches old movies will tell you that you absolutely cannot go wrong with Billy Wilder. He’s dabbled in many genres, yet his forays into noir remain the most appealing, and this one is among my favorites. Walter (Fred MacMurray) is a successful insurance salesman who meets Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) on routine business. It is unclear what how Walter regards her (except perhaps with lust), yet he desires Phyllis’ company. They rendezvous again, and the two hatch a nefarious plan – Walter will sell Phyllis’ husband a double indemnity policy, kill the husband, and make the death look curiously accidental. The murderers will then collect the policy and live happily ever after, right? Of course the plan goes to shit. No one can successfully deceive Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who plays Walter’s quirky boss. What makes the movie work is the superlative quality of elements involved, particularly the screenplay co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler. The guy who created Philip Marlowe knows how to infuse dialog with laconic sleaze. What’s most intriguing is it’s never made clear why Phyllis and Walter embark on such a foolhardy plan, and why they think they are solution to the other’s unhappiness. Perhaps they saw deviant crime as the only way out of their adequately comfortable lifestyle.
Elevator to the Gallows. Before he filmed one of the longest meals in movie history, Louis Malle directed this curious French thriller. Former spy Julien orchestrates the murder of his boss so that he may live with Florence, the boss’ wife. Of course the plan goes to shit. Julien leaves behind a key piece of evidence (what an idiot), and gets stuck in the elevator (seriously). Meanwhile a hotshot kid and his girlfriend steal Julien’s car and drive by Florence, which leads her to believe Julien left her for a younger woman. She wanders the streets, delirious with grief. Meanwhile the hotshot kid goes joy riding, and murders a tourist. Eventually a cop makes sense of all the events, and provides the story its moral compass. The ironies pile and the plot becomes increasingly complicated, yet Malle never loses sight of his story. Florence becomes dangerously deranged, and one gets the impression Julien cannily took advantage of her codependent instincts. Like many French movie criminals, Julien plays a cool criminal to the end. The initial murder unfolds with deliberate logic, and Malle proves he has a capable hand at directing thrilling set pieces. If you’re still not convinced, the movie is worth watching for its atmospheric depiction of 1950s Paris.
House of Games. Playwright David Mamet made his directorial debut with this sneaky con men thriller. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) is a psychiatrist who specializes in obsessive behavior. One of her patients is a degenerate gambler who claims if he does not come up with 25 large, he will be killed. Margaret visits the patient’s regular pool hall, called the House of Games, to reason with whomever the patient owes. Here she meets Mike (Joe Mantegna aka Fat Tony) who confides that he need a beautiful woman for a poker game. The con men fascinate Margaret, so Mike offers to show her his world. Of course the plan goes to shit. Margaret learns about the intricacies of the con, never suspecting that she’s the mark for a grander scheme. The tables eventually turn, and soon Mike finds himself in mortal danger. I’ve written about Mamet movies in this column before, but I don’t care if I’m repeating myself. I love his terse, clipped dialog, and how his characters speak in an oblique way in relation to their craft. More specifically, I love how his character use profanity as punctuation. Rarely do plot, dialog, and acting converge in such a thrilling, thought-provoking way. For bonus points, check out William H. Macy in his early role as a helpless mark.
That’s it for this week’s “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in next week I’m a giant woman tasked to save the world.