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Spy vs. Spy

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Arguably, Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are two of the most smoldering actors around. Either one of them can easily carry a film with their own raw "charisma". Pairing the two of them in a romantic thriller is about as easy on the cinematic palate as cookies and milk. Fortunately, these two pretty faces (and bodies) bring a bit more to the table than their good looks in Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity.

Owen plays Ray Koval, a retired MI6 agent. Roberts is the yin to Owen’s yang as Claire Stenwick, a retired CIA agent. The two expert spies find themselves mired in a "corporate deathmatch" playing on opposite sides as corporate spies. At stake is the formula for a product that will make one of the corporations a mastodonic sum of money. Naturally, both find themselves coveting this sum for themselves.

Complicating matters is the somewhat heated relationship between these two spies. The witty repartee and chemistry between Owens and Roberts is palpable and for the most part quite believable. A performance like this is no real stretch for Roberts as she’s already proven herself in breezy capers such as Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve. The only real criticism here is that it’s a bit tough to see Roberts as a retired CIA agent. She’s a bit too warm and engaging to pull this off.

Owens is a natural as a spy. He’s played the heavy in films such as Sin City and Children of Men among others and is no stranger to pulling off gruff, grim, and dangerous. But, seeing a light and breezy side is a bit different for Clive. It’s a bit refreshing and for the most part he pulls off a nice balance between the two.

As if the presence of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts wasn’t enough, we also have the added bonus of Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson playing the two competing CEOs willing to do just about anything to get their hands on the aforementioned formula that will inevitably reap a fortune for one of them. These two heavyweights more than engage the audience in their own right when they’re on screen battling it out.

Director Tony Gilroy made quite a splash with Michael Clayton a few years ago and Duplicity is an interesting follow up. Gilroy seems to have a thing for corporate espionage as similar terrain is explored in both films. Admittedly, the tone of Duplicity is markedly different. The injection of romance and levity is bound to rub some Michael Clayton fans the wrong way.

But, viewed on its own, Duplicity is a more than solid romantic thriller with mostly excellent performances by all of the key players. Gilroy could have made the plot a little less convoluted, but it’s a pretty minor quibble for a film that largely works.