Best of the 2000’s: Discussion #10

The Filmist has posted our tenth and final discussion where we tackle Edward Yang’s Yi Yi and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, our respective favorite films of the decade. You can find it here.

I also want to thank you readers out there who’ve been following our trek through this insurmountable wealth of material.  Without you, we would be screaming into the wind.

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Duplicity (Gilroy, 2009)

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Deconstruction of Hollywood archetypes or glorification of cinema as complete artificiality? Tony Gilroy’s breakneck spy comedy Duplicity has elements of both, reveling in Julia Roberts and Clive Owen’s star personas only to pull the rug out from under their rouse with one last twist of disturbing comeuppance. The film continuously uses flashy dialogue and flashbacks to mask its one-dimensional characters as they traverse a combustible and unflinching corporate space, forcing a sense of simple confusion and debauchery on the entire proceedings. It’s a stark grey world of perception, manipulation, and expectation, where everyone is culpable no matter their pay grade or ambivalence.

Duplicity contains an intrinsic charm, as Roberts and Owen share a wonderful sense of chemistry and timing. But Gilroy’s rehashing of themes from Michael Clayton (greed, corporate treachery) feel tired and out of place within this specific mixture of tones, even as he skewers some truly deserving targets and avoids any resemblance of a happy ending. Most problematic is how stylistically Duplicity treads heavily into Steven Soderbergh territory, from the extensive use of steady-cam tracking shots down to the romantic sprinkles of background light. Some scenes in particular seem to be plucked directly from Out of Sight and the Ocean’s Trilogy.

Tony Gilroy is an obviously talented writer, but wears certain thematic obsessions too clearly on his sleeve, leaving little for the audience to discover or feel even as these films brilliantly flutter off the screen. Duplicity cleverly plays with our expectations about narrative convention and genre, but in the end, its confidence game lacks any lasting substance and depth.

The International (Tykwer, 2009)

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Our current economic state tells us the next big villain will be the banking conglomerates/Wall Street honchos primarily responsible for our current recession, and of course Hollywood must follow suit. In Tom Tykwer’s The International, a flashy international thriller with international twists and turns, an epic and greedy German bank creates a stranglehold on the global weapons market, funding coups and plotting assassinations in Third World countries and Europe. An Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and a NYC District Attorney (Naomi Watts) struggle to reveal the conspiracy against truly international odds, jumping continents in the name of righteousness and justice. The International mixes stylized action with outright social commentary, attempting to appease both the masses and us Academic blowhards, and for the most part it’s an entertaining success. But the film never achieves an identity or a thesis, basically leaving the viewer with a simplistic picture of male cynicism forced toward a road to redemption. It’s a shame Tykwer’s genius for dynamic visuals only pops up once – a bravura shootout between multiple characters within the pale white interiors of The Guggenheim Museum, a perfect bleached canvas for bullet holes, blood splatter, and broken glass which becomes a certain painterly masterpiece all itself. In the end, you’re left wondering why more of the film didn’t play to Tykwer’s obvious strengths.