About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Duplicity.  Seen Wednesday evening March 25, 2009 at Clearview's Chelsea Cinema, auditorium #6.  2.5 slithy toads.

So I did mention that I was wanting to see this movie, and I was able to catch it on a decent-size screen after my synagogue's annual meeting Wednesday night.

Duplicity is written and directed by Tony Gilroy.  He did the Bourne screenplays, and he is the mastermind behind the very entertaining Michael Clayton.  It stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.  Julia is Julia!  Clive Owen first came to my attention with Croupier, part of the Shooting Gallery film series which I touched upon in my lengthy digression here and has gone on to often be the good part of mixed bags like Shoot Em Up or the first Steve Martin Pink Panther, and occasionally as in City of Men very good in very good films.  The supporting cast is filled with nice names, giving the movie that old studio veneer that Michael Clayton had and which I admired in the work of Sydney Pollack.

Bryce commented that he and his wife had a disagreement on the ending.

The movie had gotten some good reviews (NY Times) and not so good (New Yorker), and with the talent behind it plenty of reasons to go see.

Alas, for all the charms that the film brings, the ending is even worse than Bryce had suggested.  The film as a whole falls just a little flatter over the course of its running time than it should with all its bubbly star-studded names, and the ending was like someone kicking me in the ass on my way out the door.

Clive and Julia play corporate espionage types.  What do they do?  Well, I certainly though of this article from 8 years ago in the NY Times Magazine when I was watching the movie, which was serialized from this book by Adam Penenberg, Marc Barry and Adam L. Penenberg.  The article dealt with the attempts of one pizza company to find out the secrets of another pizza company, and of course it must have been a very good article if I can remember having read it 8 years after, so if you haven't clipped the link to this article then here's a 2nd chance and a 3rd chance.  There's some gagging on pizza in Duplicity, so I think Tony Gilroy may have read that same article.

Here, it's not pizza but cosmetics, companies like Procter & Gamble and Colgate, and Clive and Julia are working for the two firms but may be working for themselves or for each other or perhaps for somebody else because lack of trust is a big issue in this movie.  Their goal is to make a killing my getting and using some inside information.

In the end -- SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER -- we find out that the two of them have actually been played by a third party, which is the final reversal in a film that was apparently written at least according to an article in the New Yorker with the goal of being filled with lots of reversals.  

I hate -- HATE -- the ending to this movie on multiple levels.  First, we don't go to see Clive and Julia in a romantic heist movie where it turns out we and they have been played.   Movie stars like this, we want to see nice things happen to them. Next, a good ultimate reverse movie like The Sixth Sense, you think back on all that you have seen and it is airtight.  Here, on the subway home thinking on the movie, I was starting to find all kinds of holes.  First, while it might be implied that one of the ultimate double-crossers lets Clive Owen get away with something after he's caught red-handed, we would need to see this.  Instead, there's a plot point at the end that makes no sense because we haven't seen how Clive Owen gets an item from Point A to Point B when he's been caught with it.   Another conspirator play acts to such an extent that he knocks down furniture perhaps almost injuring himself quite seriously.  It's way more than the situation requires of him.  And finally, what is the ultimate pay-off?  If the ultimate mastermind has a point to his plan, it's left obscured to us.  If he has no ultimate point to his plan this is all just a colossal and very complicated prank to where it no longer makes any sense.

There are movies that intend themselves to be downers.  The mise en scene of one shot in the film, when the CEO of one of the companies is about to make a big speech to his shareholders, somehow reminded me of a climactic scene in the thriller The Parallax View with Warren Beatty.  In that film as in its recent and underrated spiritual remake Arlington Road, we are meant to feel somewhat betrayed at the end but in a way intentionally designed to make us think and examine things and issues in our lives, and both of those movies are very good and both I would recommend highly for renting.  Just as I am sure Tony Gilroy read that Times Magazine article about pizza espionage, I am sure he's seen and perhaps studied The Parallax View, and as odd as it is for me to be reminded of that movie in Duplicity, I doubt it's a bad impression to have.

But this is not a 1970s conspiracy thriller.  This is a major romantic studio release with major big stars (of course Warren Beatty was, too). and I don't need to leave it feeling like shit pondering gaping logic holes. 

The movie has a complicated time structure, but only if you've never seen a movie before.  Julia's been working at her job 14 months, Clive for 3 weeks, and a lot of the backwards and forwards is to times and places fairly well guessed by this.  It's show-offy complex but I don't think it's adding anything.

It is 2 hours long. While I can't point to specific scenes I would have cut, I'm pretty sure at least one of the little exotic locale time tunnel things that establishes the backgrounds and mutual mistrust of the characters could have been cut out, and things trimmed a tad otherwise.  This would have been better at 1:55, though the ending would still have sucked.

I did ilke the score by James Newton Howard.  In a change from the lush strings of Defiance or The Village, this is a jaunty score that has a little Mancini '60s caper movie, a bit of John Williams from Catch Me If You Can, some of the jazz inflections of Dave Grusin in The Firm.

FInally, let's talk about the issue of plot reversals that the New Yorker article says was so integral to the vision of Tony Gilroy.  As a rule, I think it is a bad idea to do something in order to be cute.  Brandon Sanderson wanted to write a reversal-filled novel  in Warbreaker, and we argued some about whether that was a good reason to write a novel just to be cute with the reversals.  The decision to do so having long since been made, this was a main focus of the rewrite process, and Brandon was as he always is in revising fully on board with doing what needed to be done.  We worked hard to find the reverses that were more surprising than logical, or which were too inconsistent with the characters, and those things were addressed.  I am quite happy with the final product, and while it' s a departure for Brandon it's also (in my biased opinion as his agent) an entirely worthwhile addition to his ouevre.  Tony Gilroy set out to be cute, but I don't think he had enough people telling him when he was getting way too cute for his own good.

I won't tell people not to see this.  It has star power and a rich studio feel and it passes the time well enough even if maybe for a little more time than it should.  Perhaps I should recommend it even more than I do because it gives you all the bonus time when you can enjoy arguing over it with your date, finding the plot  holes, debating if they really are plot holes.  So if you have a spouse or date or special movie friend to see it with, and if you can go and discuss over a nice Jim Dandy afterwards, I'll give this 3 slithy toads.  If you don't care about Julia or Clive and the babysitter costs a lot, then I'll give it 1.5.

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