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Duplicity

It's little surprise that, for his second film as director, Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy leans heavily on his favored tropes of international espionage and cutthroat capitalism. The surprise is that Duplicity is a comedy — about two people who love each other more than they could ever trust each other — and a superb one at that. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen star as former CIA and MI6 agents, respectively, who find themselves unwittingly reunited in the private sector. Like the tart-tongued screwball romps of the 1930s and Soderbergh's latter-day screwball Out of Sight, Duplicity luxuriates in implausible situations, high-caliber dialogue, and two immensely likable movie stars who possess the thing that no amount of intra-agency packaging can will into being: chemistry. Scott Foundas


The Edge of Love

No longer weighted down by the perukes she had to wear in The Duchess, Keira Knightley returns to the simpler chignons of Atonement in another World War II-set prestige piece with a starchy literary pedigree — this one scripted by her mum, Sharman MacDonald. Knightley sings and affects a Welsh whisper as Vera, a childhood friend of Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys), who meets up with the pickled poet in London during the Blitz. When Thomas' even-more-aggro spouse, Caitlin (Sienna Miller, in a role originally attached to Lindsay Lohan), arrives, Vera opens her flat to the couple, and the trio becomes one big cuddle-puddle. Adding a fourth wheel, Vera hastily marries stoic soldier William (Cillian Murphy); while he's fighting in Greece, the threesome decamp to adjoining cottages in Wales. Director John Maybury repeatedly falls into the genre's traps, creating an inert, claustrophobic movie.


The Great Buck Howard

No one does raging unlovability quite like John Malkovich, who's a total gas when he drops the bombast that often bogs down his more serious roles. Not that Buck Howard, the once-great mentalist now playing to half-empty theaters in Hicksville, lacks for pathos — or glory. His lounge act is excruciating, his standup terrible, but his one gift, locating his paycheck in the clothing of an audience member, has never let him down — until now, it goes without saying. Based on a magician known to writer/director Sean McGinly, this loudly dressed, insecure blowhard with a pumping handshake and severe anger-management problems may also be an ambivalent tribute to Jerry Lewis. Either way, Malkovich swallows the screen, and when he's out of frame, the movie feels slack and slow. But though it laments our decaying faith in magic and mystery, The Great Buck Howard is rarely mawkish. McGinly sheds no tears for this clown, and he makes a beguiling case for following your bliss all the way to Bakersfield, if that's where it lies. Ella Taylor

 
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