Duplicity (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual content.
Length: 125 minutes.
Grade: AC+B+-A=A
Budget: $60 million
Box Office: $79 million (41 U.S., 38 Intl)

Written and Directed by: Tony Gilroy (Writer and director for Michael Clayton, Writer for State of Play, all three Bourne movies, Proof of Life, Bait, Armageddon, and The Devil’s Advocate)
Starring: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, and Paul Giamatti.

Two former intelligence officers become involved in an intricate web of corporate espionage driven by the deep rivalry between two mega-corporations.

Entertainment Value: A
I almost rated this an A+. It was fantastic from start to finish. In fact, I actually got worried about halfway through that they couldn’t possibly keep up the high quality all the way through, and I mused to my wife that I hoped the second half didn’t drop off, even though I could forgive them if it had. This feels like the Ocean’s franchise, and the veteran writing of Tony Gilroy is obvious. All the acting is excellent, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paul Giamatti up for an Oscar. Tom Wilkinson deserves one, too, but he won’t get it because his part is too small in the overall movie. My only sadness about this movie is that it didn’t make more money as a reward for such excellent entertainment.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C+, Violence B, Language C
PG-13 is right here, and I only wish that all PG-13 movies were basically like this. There’s a fair amount of mild profanity. There is one scene of fighting and another scene with a man struggling against handcuffs with his eyes and mouth taped over. And there are a couple of scenes of sexuality, but no nudity. As I say, PG-13 is just right.

Significant Content: B+
Okay, at this point, I have to warn you that spoilers may come out, even though I’ll try not to let them. Although this movie will seem like a send-up of the corporate world and possibly of the spy world, I think in the end it’s really about a con-game and smart people. And the real message is that smart people are the easiest to con because they’re convinced that they’re too smart to be conned. So the key to a good con is finding someone arrogant and smart enough to believe this, and then you just continue to let them believe they’re smarter than you. I don’t think the movie is meant to be about atheists and our skeptic culture, but it can certainly be taken that way if you want to. More on the surface, it’s saying that spies are extremely clever, but not nearly clever enough. And at whatever level you take it, the clear message is that habitual doubt and deceit make you incapable of ever trusting people. There are also some pretty devastating messages about corporations and the egomania it takes to lead them to greatness.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
This is both one of the best spy movies and also one of the best con movies I’ve ever seen. I’m reluctant to say anything other than this, but it is a masterful use of flashback and gradually peeling back the layers until we see the truth of a situation. I will say that there were a couple of times in this movie where I caught the film giving me a scene for my benefit that would never have happened in real life, but I forgave them because I understood why they were doing it. Also, I just loved the use of scene fades with the boxes. Very effective at setting the tone.

Discussion Questions:
~As you’re watching this movie, at various points you can stop and ask yourself who you want to win or succeed at that point. What does the movie do to make you have that desire? Does it ever bother you that you want certain people to succeed here?
~Deception and misdirection are constant elements of behavior here. What impact does this have on the happiness of the individuals involved? What impact does it have on their ability to ever trust? Even though they’re total skeptics, what things do they still wind up taking without criticism?
~Both CEOs talk about the importance of being first and being best as a means of acquiring significance. Is this also true of Ray and Claire? Is there anyone in this movies who isn’t dominated by ego? Discuss some ways in which ego is used to manipulate people in this movie? ~Is it fair to say that true self-mastery comes when you can afford to let other people think you are less capable than you really are? How does our relationship with God help us overcome the need to impress other people?
~Our culture has a fair number of people who are skeptical in general, and particularly skeptical about God. How does ego factor into their skepticism? How important is it to skeptics to not be embarrassed again by believing something false? How important is it to them to seem more clever than everyone else?
~Have you ever had doubts about whether you could trust someone else? What did you do? How do our choices under such uncertainty reflect on us? Are there any things you believe because you choose to rather than because the evidence compels you?
~If you had to choose between being fooled by people sometimes because you are too trusting and being safe from people because you’re too suspicious, which would you choose? What’s the upside of being overly trusting? What’s the downside of being overly suspicious?
~Talk about the methods used by people in this movie to deceive each other. Does this movie itself use any of these methods to deceive us, the audience? Does it make a difference whether someone wants to be deceived in evaluating the ethics of deception? How is successful deception of the audience a key component of spy/con movies?
~How common do you believe it is for companies to try to steal each other’s ideas and products? How likely is it that companies have this sophisticated of a counter-intelligence apparatus?
~One character talks about the corporation being the latest development in human evolution, becoming a sort of mega-organism that thrives or declines over time. What do you think of this metaphor?
Overall Grade: A
Highly entertaining. Thoughtful. Clever. This movie was smarter than I was, but in a way I totally enjoyed.

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