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Cinema In Focus: ‘Duplicity’

When distrust is a professional way of life, it usually affects the person in a personal way, as well

3 Stars — Challenging

Whom do you trust? Is a trustworthy person only someone who will keep a secret, or does that person also need to have your best interests at heart?

Duplicity dives into the world of governmental and corporate mistrust that requires a person to surround him or herself with people who will also be duplicitous on every level. Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) is an ex-CIA agent who some years earlier had a one-night stand with a British M16 agent named Ray Koval (Clive Owen). To complete a romantic evening, Claire did what she knows best: she stole some secrets from her temporary lover.

Years later, both Claire and Ray are retired from government work and are now working for competing cosmetic companies as corporate spies. Each company has an extensive and elaborate group of moles whose job it is to worm their way into the other company and steal their trade secrets. Money is no object when it comes to industrial espionage, including planting counter agents in the ranks of each company to feed out information. The plot thickens when the top agent for one firm realizes the counterpart in the other firm is a former lover.

Bringing Claire and Ray back into contact reignites old passions. But how do you trust what the other says when your whole life is geared toward distrusting anyone and everyone? What unfolds is a series of high stakes maneuvers that does everything possible to deceive each others’ company on both the personal and the corporate level.

All that is needed to bait this trap is to claim to have come up with a product that will obliterate the competition, whether it is true or not. It doesn’t seem to matter that the ends don’t justify the means when you can sanitize your motives by claiming you are protecting your shareholders. When corporate greed runs amok, as we have so aptly seen on Wall Street in recent days, you can pull off all kinds of deceptions and have people flock to you in hopes that you will make them rich. You are rewarded immensely for immoral or unethical business practices if it appears to elevate your personal status.

What do you do, then, when you have to translate this behavior into a standard by which you can live your personal life? In Claire and Ray’s case, having a relationship is challenging because they have been ingrained with a basic distrust of everyone’s motives. You may intellectually believe you can separate your personal behavior from your corporate behavior, but it is here that Claire and Ray discover they have become the victims of the ultimate deception as they realize that being loved requires living a clear and transparent life based on trusting others.

Whether major companies go to the level of elaborate scheming that is exhibited by the two heads of these firms is hard to say, but their passion for deceit underlies the worst values in mankind. If all is fair in love and war, then where do you draw the ethical line? In Duplicity the actions are comedic, but their lives are tragic. In this case, everyone is a “loser,” even in the midst of what each side thinks is their winning move. The end game may be driven by financial success, but the reward is a bankrupt life.

Discussion:

» Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trusted? What was the effect on you relationally, emotionally and spiritually?

» The decision of a company to steal secrets from a competitor reveals a basic dysfunction that undoubtedly permeates the ethics of the entire company. Do you believe the same is true of a nation?

» Have you ever had a season in your own life where you lived a duplicitous life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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