In the past, it has always been assumed that a slew of bankable film stars in one blindingly ebullient ensemble cast guarantees that the film itself is actually good. Not so. Understandably, the suits at Relativity Media rightly believed that the pairing of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen would ensure box office success. And during this time of economic peril, there is nothing more important than the insurance provided by the charisma of Clive Owen and the never waning star quality of Julia Roberts. Duplicity is a testament to celebrity overpowering actual story.
In general, Duplicity is a decent film. It is chockfull of all the usual plot twists, frequent changes in location to keep the ever decreasing attention span of audience members engaged, and a Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy-esque repartee between the film's stars. Even so, there is something missing from the film. It's as though every plot device typically used for the genre of thrillers and romantic comedies are melded together to form this sort of grotesque self-aggrandizing product. And it is a product. One that unintentionally bolsters the notion that two major celebrities can rarely seem to star in a transcendent movie together as a result of ego. When you throw writer-director Tony Gilroy's (of Michael Clayton and Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum fame) massive ego into the mix, Duplicity can easily be viewed as nothing more than another vanity project.
Roberts and Owen are among the few mainstream actors who consistently put forth above average performances in films that also seek to raise social awareness about a particular issue (Roberts most notably in Erin Brockovich and Owen in Children of Men). This could be one of the reasons Duplicity was a bit disappointing. Granted, both actors respectively have been in their fair share of strictly shallow entertainment films (Roberts in the Ocean's Eleven series and Owen in Shoot 'Em Up), but those films somehow seemed to have a higher degree of wit about them than Duplicity.
Although Tony Gilroy is a seasoned professional and generally regarded as one of the most talented screenwriters around, he is too reliant on flashing back and flashing forward within the film to "confuse" his audience. Rather than instilling confusion, annoyance is the sentiment that becomes most prevalent. The melange of time works, and in fact is necessary, in films like Memento and Mulholland Drive, but in Duplicity it is more of a means to distract the audience from the reality that, for a story about spies, there is little complexity or surprise about the final outcome of the narrative.