Duplicity: aka an agent from MI6 and an Agent from the CIA. When They Met it was Murder.

There are certain names which should never be used for films. Anything that comes in a bit too universal, a bit too non-descript, will doom your project. Steer clear of any film called Deception. There is a reason why there is only one film of note called Murder. To this anonymous band of rubbishly incoherent titles we must add Duplicity. Not that there is not Duplicity in teh film (though truth be told the is triplicity and quadplicity at least). But because it doesn’t really make the film leap out at you. Which is the problem with the film in general.

Its got a funky, wish-it-was-by-David Holmes music. Its got Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in a sparky, spunky relationship. Its glib, and perfectly crafted. Basically Duplicity wants to be Oceans 11 with balls, a glitzy entertainment with a splash of substance under the surface. The problem is, in trying to tie a film of double and triple crosses with a meditation on trust, neither themes work. All that does work is a series of chamber pieces, flashback dialogues between Owen and Roberts in a selection of global hotel rooms. And in a film about secret agents pulling dazzling heists, that seems to be the wrong way around.

But its not about secret agents pulling heists, its about ex-secret agents doing complex corporate espionage in the cosmetic industry. The stakes of the macguffin in the film could not be lower. This is probably done on purpose to show that the untrustworthy nature of its leads is actually their nature. Its one thing to lie, cheat and steal for Queen and Country, another to do so for L’Oreal. But despite all this being well orchestrated, all of the action is set in a world of double agents and double crosses. There is no point believing what you see, as you know it will be undermined. So you quickly stop caring about the hows and the whys. Which just leaves the occasional visits to the hotel rooms where Roberts and Owen simultaneous love, and don’t trust each other.

It all comes to a head with a satisfying ending and the pair reunited as the camera pulls out. And suddenly all you remember is this terrific half hour two-handed play, which for some reason you kept flicking over from watching the worst of the Men From Uncle films (The Helicopter Affair perhaps). Because what Owen and Roberts do is sell you a relationship that even the script doesn’t. It is very pleasing to spend time with their verbal sparring and love story, the rest is just a hair-brained piece of heist wankery.