DVD reviews

Watchmen and Duplicity released on DVD this week

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Duplicity

3/5
Dir Tony Gilroy US (TBA)

Combining the cold corporate intrigue of his directorial debut Michael Clayton with the suave, globetrotting antics of the Ocean’s series, Duplicity marks a move into lighter territory for Oscar-nominated Bourne screenwriter Tony Gilroy. When a feud between two pharmaceutical giants threatens to tip over into outright war, ex-MI5 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and his arch rival-cum-romantic interest, CIA counter-intelligence operative Claire Sternwick (Julia Roberts), spot a chance to strike it rich. But who’s double crossing who?

Duplicity is an enormously entertaining Hollywood escapade, cramming in enough upscale locations, narrative switchbacks and romantic intrigue to keep an audience rapt. But there’s a sneaking suspicion we’ve seen this before: James Newton Howard’s overbearing beats ’n’ strings soundtrack is never more than David Holmes-lite, while both Owen and Roberts seem a little too at ease in this polished world of power suits and snappy repartee.

Gilroy directs with panache, drip-feeding plot details until the big picture emerges. It’s hardly a surprise when it does – this is the sort of film you’re obliged to second guess – but getting there is half the fun. The tension is expertly maintained, wringing maximum suspense out of the most mundane details (including, at one point, a nail biting hunt for a photocopier). A shame, then, that Gilroy couldn’t have found a way to make us care about these characters: both the leads are so guarded and manipulative, they leave a gaping emotional hole where the heart of this otherwise excellent comic caper ought to be.
Tom Huddleston
Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore


Watchmen

4/5
Dir Zack Snyder US (TBA)

Similar to its source material, the classic graphic novel of the same name, Watchmen starts off with a bang – or rather, several kapows and a thud. A beefy man (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) once known as masked hero the Comedian tussles with a badass stranger; the rumble ends with the series’s iconically creepy image of a smiley face splattered with blood and the former hero being tossed out of his penthouse window.

It’s a virtuoso introduction to Watchmen’s what-if 1985 world on the brink of nuclear armageddon, and along with Snyder’s regrettable fetish for slo-mo action sequences (did 300 not get that out of his system?), one of the few times the self-proclaimed ‘visionary’ director gets creative with the material. Fearful of any reaction from a fan base more rabidly protective than a mama lion, Snyder treats the comic as both script and storyboard. The book’s more cinematic flourishes, such as the pullback from that bloody button to the top of a 20-storey building, are re-created with such fidelity that the effect is like being stuck in an echo chamber.

Such asphyxiating scrupulousness should keep the Watch-geeks happy, even if they – along with the rest of us – will balk at the odd tonal switches. But what the film rightfully retains, and often nails, is the book’s commitment to seriously digging deep into the psychic debris of these archetypes; not even last year’s The Dark Knight ventured this far into the abyss, which helps make the film’s myriad flaws far more forgivable. The graphic novel brilliantly used the idiom and vocabulary of Silver Age superheroics to critique the medium itself, dragging those perpetually adolescent men-in-tights stories into an artistic adulthood. No matter how lofty its intelli-blockbuster ambitions, Snyder’s admirable take doesn’t quite do the same for superhero movies. It does, however, move the genre’s metaphorical clock hands several clicks closer to maturity.
David Fear
Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore

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