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Originally published March 19, 2009 at 4:38 PM | Page modified March 19, 2009 at 5:03 PM

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Movie review

"Duplicity": A witty, pretty old-school crime caper

Clive Owen and Julia Roberts play corporate operatives in Tony Gilroy's smart, funny and glamorous "Duplicity." Review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Duplicity," with Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Denis O'Hare, Kathleen Chalfant, Carrie Preston. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. Several theaters.

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"All the time, I think about you," says one character ardently to another, near the end of Tony Gilroy's snappy caper "Duplicity." "Even when you're with me."

Ahhh. Watching "Duplicity" brings pleasures all too rare: gorgeous actors speaking smart, funny dialogue in beautiful settings. And, because this movie is made by the very smart Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), it engages our brains, too, employing a tricky tango of a plot that zooms forward and backward in time. You may well spend the first half-hour (or more) wondering what the hell's going on. Never mind; Gilroy eventually sorts everything out, and it's fun just hanging on for the ride.

Here's what we do know: Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) are both spies-turned-corporate operatives; Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) and Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) are their respective bigwig employers. One company has a formula for a groundbreaking product guaranteed to bring untold riches — and the other company desperately wants it. Ray and Claire have a bantering and-so-to-bed history, told over elegantly split-screened flashbacks involving five-star hotels in Dubai, Rome, Miami and London. But who exactly is working for whom, and who's playing whom?

All this plays out alongside a lot of Champagne corks, comments about pizza, high-tech moles tapping away on computer screens, Giamatti smiling diabolically (nobody does it better) and Wilkinson pruning his bonsai. (No, that's not a double entendre, though this would be the right movie for one. There's actual bonsai involved.) It's an old-school, fast-talking caper with modern twists, filled with movie-star glamour and unexpectedly quirky wit.

Why had I never realized before that I've always wanted to see a movie in which Owen and Giamatti meet in a bowling alley? Or a scene in which Owen, in Clark Kent glasses and a flat Midwestern accent, pretends to be a pediatric cardiologist opening a clinic in Ethiopia, the better to seduce a clueless corporate employee (Carrie Preston, who then makes hilariously beautiful music with the wailed line "The children ... and their little hearts!")?

Owen and Roberts, who shared a much darker chemistry in "Closer," are all cool zippiness here, just the way you want movie stars to be. (One small disappointment: Though Owen looks like a dream in his Armani suits, the costume department didn't do Roberts any favors with a few sadly frumpy outfits.) Giamatti and Wilkinson are perfection, just the way you knew they would be. And Gilroy, who's only directed two films and yet is clearly a master of pacing and style, makes it all look easy. I'm still thinking of "Duplicity," even though I'm not watching it, and that's rare enough these days. Good fun.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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