Mar 23, 2009

Duplicity: I was had

It's official: I'm not as smart as I thought I was. I didn't love Duplicity, you see. I really tried to pay attention, too. Sat there with my head in my hand, eyes narrowed, brow furrowing, determined to get the most out of it. "This is as good as it gets," said Variety. "However you describe it, Duplicity is superior entertainment, the most elegantly pleasurable movie of its kind to come around in a very long time," said A O Scott. " If what thrills you is the swift-moving, unrelenting contest between equal and opposing forces, then the movies you seek out are surely the great romantic comedies of the studio era, verbal boxing matches that draw blood and end in kisses."

Count me in. Except that for a large chunk of time — almost (but not quite) the whole movie — I had no idea what was going on with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. Were they gaming the company? Each other? Both? Neither? Are we supposed not to know? Maybe some people like the confusion — a sure sign that something superior is going on. I'll put up with this sort of thing for a bit, but eventually the suspicion begins to dawn that the movie is being complicated, rather than complex, that it is patterned, rather than plotted, and then I check out.

I had the same deal with LA Confidential — another complicated movie that everyone loved and left me cold. Duplicity didn't leave me cold. The script is lean and economical, and its satire is beautifully done. Tonally, it finds the same sweet spot as The Right Stuff — sending up this world while never failing to make it matter. I never tired of seeing Paul Giametti ranting about his opponent's new creams and lotions. But over the long haul I found myself adopting the same defensive crouch David Mamet induces in me — a twist overload. The assumption that nothing is at it seems has its own predictability, after a while. You sit there going "that's not going to turn out to be true" or "I bet she tricks him". And you're always right.

I read somewhere that butterfly wingspan only reach a span of two feet (or something like that) before they collapse. In other words, there's a inbuilt evolutionary limit to the size butterflies can be. I feel the same way about movie plots: there's a certain level of complexity you shouldn't go beyond. What's going to happen now, of course, is that Duplicity is not going to do as well as some people expect and then the critics are going to start blaming the multiplex or the average Joe or the dumbing-down of America or Jaws. It's nothing to do with any of those things.

1 comment:

  1. For all the reviews I've read, this is the best thing written about Duplicity that I've seen. Extremely observant and right on the mark. Well done. You're a very engaging critic.