The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


How far can charm take a movie? A story, an actor, a soundtrack, they can all have charm, but to what point? Usually it's a jumping off point to at least liking a movie, and hopefully somewhere in the process, you like something more. Thanks to a misleading trailer, I watched 2009's Duplicity, thinking I was getting a light espionage mystery relying on the charm and star power of two bankable stars. Even charm -- or lack of -- could save this one.

Two former intelligence agents, Ray (Clive Owen) from MI6 and Claire (Julia Roberts) from the CIA, have a bit of a history together...a checkered one at that. Several years ago in Dubai, Claire drugged Ray and took some valuable information he had hidden away. Now they're meeting up again but under different circumstances and different emotions. For one, they've fallen for each other, well, sort of, if they can trust each other. Wanting to retire to a life of luxury, they've decided to go into corporate espionage, working from the inside as two warring corporations (run by rivals Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson) do battle over a new product that could revolutionize the market with billions of dollars at stake.

For starters, the trailer for this flick definitely made it look like a light, even romantic comedy a la Spy vs. Spy with Owen and Roberts going toe to toe. Yeah, about that...not quite. It's not like that at all, and it's not even close. Instead, director Tony Gilroy (of the Bourne movies, Michael Clayton) has crafted a twisting, weaving and generally pretty dark story about a corporate espionage where everything is not what it seems. I'm not claiming the movie isn't any good because the trailer was misleading. I'm claiming the movie isn't any good because it's dull and drifting with characters who aren't even close to sympathetic territory and a story that wraps itself up in its own cleverness.

Not surprisingly, the message boards are divided as to the quality of the movie. Some claim it's stupid and boring because the story isn't linear. Then there's the posters who blindly defend it because it's smart. Can both sides be wrong and right at the same time? I resent it when holier-than-thou moviegoers claim someone doesn't like a movie because they "didn't get it." It's also mindblowingly dumb to claim a movie is dumb because you simply didn't understand it. The odd thing about Duplicity is that nothing really works, and both sides are in fact very right. The story is flashback heavy, bringing us up to date (as much as possible) with how the characters got into this spot. Then, there's the current story, Ray and Claire working from the inside. None of it is particularly interesting, and it doesn't change much over the course of a slow-moving 125 minutes.

As far as bankable stars go, it's hard to top Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Their parts in Duplicity are lacking in so many ways, and neither looks that interested in the story or their characters. Like the story, they look bored with the proceedings. And charm? Chemistry? Yeah, I'm still looking for that. The two stars never click, their scenes lacking any real passion. Their relationship gets repetitive almost immediately, two intelligence agents who struggle with trust issues because their job requires it of them. Roberts questions Owen, Owen flips, Roberts reveals she's joking and trying to pull a fast one on them. Repeat to your desire three or four more times, the joke falling short over and over. As for Giamatti and Wilkinson, it's about what you'd expect. They're playing themselves in extended cameos, neither given a chance to do anything.

More than a few times during the slowly developing story I was close to bailing, but I stuck with it and was at least partially rewarded with the ending. It features a twist that works in terms of the story and characters, but also is surprisingly entertaining and unique. It is far from a happy twist either, adding a dark element to the already pretty dark proceedings. Not enough to recommend the movie, but enough to say 'stick with it' if you're struggling mightily to make it through like I did.

Duplicity <---trailer (2009): */****

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with your review on several levels. The movie approaches "dark" material perhaps but handles it in the safest way possible. It's definitely a comic film with most of its situations and themes played for laughs. Also, I certainly thought Owen and Roberts got on well - this from someone who's not a fan of either.

    To be sure, Duplicity isn't a masterpiece, but I liked it when I saw it theatrically. I'm certainly baffled by some of your criticisms.