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Universal Pictures

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Movies | Duplicity features deep characters and sparkling dialogue

Issue: "The schools that Arne built," April 11, 2009

In its two-faced soul, Duplicity is a thriller about flirting. Ray (Clive Owen), an MI-6 operative, has a fun encounter with Claire (Julia Roberts), who is CIA, that ends in her bedroom-with him drugged and unconscious and her sneaking away with a manila envelope full of his military codes. This, if you are a spy, is embarrassing.

When the two meet up again, the conversation is tense, but there's still that same spark that led Ray into Claire's arms in the first place. He's worried; she's guarded; there's just no telling what either of them wants from the other. Both work in the private sector now, and both want to get out, possibly together. In order to do so, naturally, they must steal something really huge from their bosses.

Duplicity may be the most relatable spy movie ever made-the bureaucracy, the windbaggy CEOs, and the nonsensical office jargon will be instantly funny to anybody who's ever had a dull job in a cubicle somewhere (the trips to Rome and the Bahamas will not, but that's the point). It's a tense, utterly nonviolent movie (rated PG-13) with one fistfight: a hysterically funny slapping match between two rival executives (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, who appear to be having the time of their lives).

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There's no nudity (though there are post-sex scenes), comparatively little swearing, and a barrage of clean, urbane jokes both large and small. Writer/director Tony Gilroy directed the legal thriller Michael Clayton, one of 2007's best movies, and his deep characters and sparkling dialogue are just as good here. He's also brought along his conscience: Nobody gets away with being greedy in Duplicity, and Ray and Claire's mutual dishonesty-which has become their livelihood-becomes the largest impediment to their mutual affection. Will love conquer all? You bet. Will everyone get away clean? Eh, maybe.

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