Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Tony Gilroy likes to make you think when you go to the movies. A prolific screenwriter (the Bourne franchise, The Devil’s Advocate, Proof of Life, Dolores Claiborne) and now a rising talent as a writer-director (2007’s Michael Clayton was superb), his latest film, the tricky, espionage rug-puller Duplicity (***1/2), is an even more deceptive endeavor than Clayton, and while not as fully satisfying, still makes for a solid piece of adult-minded, sophisticated fun. He’s also grown as a visual stylist, working again with master cinematographer Robert Elswit (he shot Clayton, as well as There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, among many others). Duplicity has an Oceans-esque glitz and sheen without any of the snarky smarm that those crafty flicks doled out. The less said about the plot of Duplicity the better, as it’s sort of pointless to try and list a checklist of the plot points. Clive Owen is ex-MI6, and Julia Roberts is ex-CIA. They now work in the private sector, as corporate spies for rival pharmaceutical companies. One of the companies is on the verge of unleashing a revolutionary new product. The other company wants to know what that product is. So over the course of two, tight hours, Gilroy piles flashback upon flashback and location on top of location, as his characters double-talk each other almost into oblivion. Owen, always a smooth operator, is top-notch, and Roberts is the best she’s been in years (not to mention extremely sexy). Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson are the battling company CEO’s who have a lot at stake with one another, and their hilarious opening credits brawl is one of the highlights of any movie so far this year. You have to pay strict attention to everything in Duplicity. This is not a movie to text message thru, or to talk to your date while viewing. And make sure you go to the bathroom before the lights do down. The plot is always moving, always falling back on itself, and by the time the final twist is delivered in the very last scene, your head will be anxiously scrambling to connect all of the dots. Some people won’t like Duplicity for the very reason why I admired it – Gilroy demands that you bring some level of smarts to his work. This isn’t a film for passive moviegoers. People complain that high-minded movies like this don’t come around too often. That’s true. They don’t. And that’s because movies of this sort usually underperform at the box office (just as this one has). And that’s a shame. Audiences are more in the mood for simplistic bullshit like Paul Blart and Taken, films that require nothing of their audience. What a shame.

The breathless French thriller Tell No One (***1/2) makes Duplicity seem positively straightforward. This is an Oldboy-esque “wrong-man” chase movie that Hitchcock would have gone ga-ga over. And while I would be lying if I said that I totally followed every single plot development over the two frenetic yet coherent hours that Tell No One occupies, it’s pretty clear that writer-director Guillaume Canet has created an awesome mind-bender that takes you on a fantastic ride. I will offer only the barest of plot descriptions: Alex (Francois Cluzet, a dead-ringer for Dustin Hoffman) is a well-respected doctor whose wife, Margot, was murdered 8 years ago, or so he thinks. He doesn’t remember much from the last time he saw her, as after they took a nocturnal lake-side swim, he was knocked into a three day coma after being hit over the head. Margot’s body was discovered, and while a serial killer is tried for the crime, the cops still think something’s fishy with Alex’s story. We know that he’s innocent, but that doesn’t matter. Things get downright spooky when Alex receives a series of cryptic emails that seem to show Margot alive and well. Complications ensue when Alex is framed for the murder by a nefarious group of bad-guys, who seem to be working for some sort of higher-up. At the film’s mid-section, there is a stunning foot and car chase, with one of the most spectacular high-way pile-ups I’ve ever seen. With Alex running across speeding lanes of freeway traffic, dodging oncoming cars, trying to evade the police, he nearly gets himself killed by various cars and trucks. If special effects were used, they were flawless. If not, the multiple stunt drivers involved should be given medals. I’ve never seen a chase quite like it. The movie gets pretty complicated, and to be honest, the fact that it’s a French movie made it a little harder to follow than if it was in English (for me, anyways). Yes, you will find out the truth by the time the movie comes to its powerful conclusion. And yes, the movie is vigorously contrived to within an inch of its life, much like David Fincher’s underrated The Game and other brain-teasers of this sort. But that’s sort of the point – everyone involved knows that the movie they’re in is wildly ludicrous, but it’s the level of skill that everyone brings to the table that makes Tell No One as effective as it is. Cluzet’s commanding performance is riveting to watch, and Canet’s stylish, energetic direction propels the movie forward at a hurtling pace. This is a movie that demands multiple viewings. I can’t wait to watch it again.

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