A rare occasion when the leads see eye-to-eye.

A rare occasion when the leads see eye-to-eye.

(Universal) Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Rick Worthy, Denis O’Hare, Oleg Shtefanko, Kathleen Chalfant, Khan Baykal, Carrie Preston, Christopher Denham, Thomas McCarthy, Wayne Duvall. Directed by Tony Gilroy.

Events of recent years have convinced most of us of one thing – most corporate entities have zero sense of morality and even fewer ethics. While granola-eating sorts have been suspicious of corporate America for decades, many of their worst fears have proven to be true. I wonder what these people who we once called paranoid will think when they get a gander at Duplicity.

Ray Koval (Owen) is an MI-6 agent working in Dubai when he meets Claire Stenwick (Roberts), a gorgeous woman working at the American consulate. Being a kind of ladies man, he takes the girl to his hotel room where she drugs him and takes from him some Egyptian missile codes. Turns out she works for the CIA. Koval’s career takes a header because of the incident. This would have never happened to James Bond.

A few years later we meet Howard Tully (Wilkinson) and Richard Garsik (Giamatti), CEOs of rival shampoo companies Burkett-Randall and Equikrom, respectively. They have a mutual loathing that goes beyond business rivalry and has moved into the realm of personal vendetta. Both are paranoid about industrial espionage and have hired former government agents to commit counter-intelligence against the other. When Tully announces a revolutionary new product that will change the game forever, Garsik knows that it is a matter of corporate survival for him to retrieve the formula of the unknown product and market it before his hated rival can destroy him.

We discover that both Stenwick and Koval are working as corporate intelligence experts; one for Burkett-Randall, the other for Equikrom. They are in the perfect position – and have all the right skills – to make a play of their own for the big prize. Because, as we are told through a series of flashbacks, the two have found a serious mutual attraction for each other. However, the game is afoot and there are plenty of twists and turns the two must navigate if they are to make the big score, the most treacherous being that they must first learn to trust one another.

Tony Gilroy previously directed Michael Clayton so he’s capable of directing a good movie. While his previous effort had many twists and turns, this one puts it to shame in that department. Often you don’t know whether you’re coming or going, and nothing is ever what it seems. The unconventional storytelling method (we’re basically shown two parallel stories, one the current corporate espionage tale, the other the evolution of Ray and Claire’s relationship and how they got from bitter rivals to romantic partners.

Owen and Roberts are attractive leads. They’ve worked together once before (in Mike Nichols’ 2004 drama Closer) and the chemistry between them is reasonably good. Owen, in particular, comes off not unlike a modern Cary Grant. However, they are truly outshined by their supporting cast. Giamatti and Wilkinson are two of the better actors working today and they are at the top of their games here, Wilkinson as a driven industrial titan, Giamatti as a corporate pirate with a cult of personality not unlike Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Preston also has a nice couple of scenes as a corporate travel agent seduced by Ray and then interrogated by Claire. That interrogation scene is one of the most memorable in the movie.

While Gilroy occasionally captures the American corporate culture dead on, in a way it’s more of a parody of a typical American corporation. Considering what actual corporate pirates are getting away with these days, these guys seem like buffoons by comparison. And I have to admit that the ending, while unexpected (which I generally appreciate), came off like one twist too many for me. Still, this is a reasonably intelligent caper movie, well-written for the most part and with plenty going for it. I can recommend it on that basis, but it clearly isn’t one of the high-water marks for the genre. Then again, it doesn’t really have to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-written, intelligent caper movies are hard to come by these days. The leads are attractive and have decent chemistry. Glittering performances by the supporting cast, particularly Giamatti and Wilkinson.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Storytelling method can be a mite confusing at times. Plot twists and turns get to be the movies raison d’etre rather than an element of the plot. Ending was one plot twist too many.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual situations and mild language, but otherwise nothing you’d be embarrassed to bring the kids to.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Julia Roberts’ character Stenwick was named in honor of the late actress Barbara Stanwyck, who made the iconic Double Indemnity.