Monday, January 11, 2010
Dear Tony Gilroy,
I just finished watching your 2009 crime thriller Duplicity, and now I'm writing you this strongly worded letter.
If other eyes should glance upon this strongly worded letter, I should probably mention that SPOILERS may lie ahead.
I should also mention that this strongly worded letter will self-destruct exactly 15 seconds after you finish reading it. Or maybe 11 seconds. Or maybe only three seconds. Maybe it will self-destruct 15 seconds before you finish reading it, so that whatever is written at the end of this letter can remain a mystery. Because maybe at the end of this letter, something so important is typed out that reading it will put millions of lives at risk. Or cause all of the stocks on Wall St. to plummet. Or cause the Earth to break free from its rotation around the Sun and enter a dizzying spin into the endless stretches of the Milky Way. Or maybe there is absolutely nothing at all written at the end of this letter, and I just want to put you in an anxious and vulnerable place so that while you are busy either trying not to explode or procuring whatever devious secret you believe lies at the end of this letter that you fail to realize that simultaneously, I am hacking into your computer and stealing your entire identity-- which I will then use to write another strongly worded letter to someone just like you with under same set of conditions, and the entire process will begin all over again.
I hope you were you able to follow that, Mr. Gilroy, because, as you are well aware, that paragraph doesn't even come close to the complication you construct in your film. And just like you probably re-read and closely scrutinized the aforementioned meagerly convoluted paragraph, I spent the entire running time of Duplicity (two precious hours and change) examining every corner and every angle of each and every aspect of every single frame like a hawk on speed.
Because, Mr. Gilroy, how else do you expect one to draw anything at all from your film? Had I, for instance, been flipping through a magazine or making myself a sandwich or writing a strongly worded letter while watching your film, I would have certainly missed some sort of line of dialogue or plot detail that would have rendered the remainder of the film impossible to decipher.
Not that your film was particularly easy to decipher anyway, Mr. Gilroy. Oh no, it couldn't possibly have been even a little bit accessible to the average movie-watcher who prefers not to have to reconstruct an elaborate jigsaw puzzle with one hand tied behind their back and one eyelid pulled shut with a clothespin when they go to sit back and watch a movie. No, sir. No way you could throw anyone a bone in this one.
But you know what, Mr. Gilroy? I'm not the "average movie-watcher." So I did quite willingly dedicate the time, energy, and mental stamina to follow your twisted thinking and watch those little frame rectangles sweep on and off my screen and do the math every time you threw up one of those time-warp "x number of years earlier" title slides that you so clearly adore.
And might I say, Mr. Gilroy, that the task wasn't an entirely pleasant or satisfying one. You construct this hugely elaborate plot that dips and twirls and double-dips back around itself, and then what do you do with it? You stuff it with dialogue that makes me want to poke my eyes out. And then some more dialogue that makes me want to poke your eyes out and feed them to you between the sliced-open halves of my eyeballs. And then you have the nerve to put Julia Where-the-Hell-Did-I-Go-Oh-That's-Right-Nobody-Really-Cares-Anyway Roberts in the starring female role opposite the incredibly capable but terribly obvious Clive Yes-I'm-Probably-a-Super-Secret-Spy-in-Real-Life-Too Owen, so that anytime the two of them are together in a scene, the former pretty much invalidates anything the latter is saying or doing-- because accepting his character as having any shred of authenticity would require accepting her as both a dangerously skilled secret agent and as some sort of otherwise unobtainable trove of sexual and romantic energy that the former would risk both his life and livelihood to acquire. Ptttttttth.
But none of this is actually the subject of my strongly worded letter. You see, I am writing you tonight, Mr. Gilroy, because after breaking every possible circuit in my brain while either watching the unintentionally hilarious and simultaneously unbearable character exchanges or attempting to decipher what exactly was occurring before me-- after all of that, you have the audacity to rip the rug out from under me like I'm some kind of wine glass on a magician's dinner table just so that you can maintain some sense of self-assurance that you, Mr. Gilroy-- oh no, not you, Mr. Gilory-- you did not give in to the corporate Hollywood movie-making machine and managed to con an entire audience of trusting movie-watchers.
Are you really going to tell me that I spent two hours or more of my life chasing my own tail? That I was following absolutely nothing at all? I bet you think you're real smart, Mr. Gilroy, that in the end of your film about a long, complicated con that was vastly too complicated for anyone's good, you reveal that you were the one pulling the long con all along? That everything we, your trusting audience, were thinking and expecting was based under some fabricated pretense that there was actually a plot, a story, a point to the movie we were watching?
I bet you think you're real clever, Mr. Gilroy, that you made a movie that barely contained a single line of genuine dialogue, that barely featured a single real character, that may not have possessed a single moment of full disclosure until its terribly devious ending. I watched Julia Roberts and Clive Owen parade around on screen in fancy hotel rooms and tropical locales, talking about things I wasn't supposed to know about, engaging in seemingly nonsensical wordplay, walking fast and trading little gadgets like something going on must be terribly important, and smushing their lips together like two exposed belly flabs captured between halter tops and rolled cut-offs colliding inside a Fall Out Boy mosh pit-- I watched all of that, always trying to stay alert and aware of everything that was before me, only to find out that there was absolutely no purpose to any of it. That the purpose and the answer to your sick little experiment were played out in Matrix-style super-slo-mo behind the opening credits before the film even really began, played so slowly and deliberately that you would have to be temporarily rendered deaf, dumb, and blind to have missed it.
You probably think you're some kind of sick, twisted genius, Mr. Gilroy, for playing the con on us while we were looking out for the con you promised us-- but I know better, Mr. Gilroy.
I hope you realize, Mr. Gilroy, that a large chunk, if not the majority, of the people who sit down to watch your film will not have the capacity to dedicate such a close observation on either of your little games-- the one you pretend to be playing, and then the one you've actually been playing all along. Said movie-watchers will feel completely jipped by the conclusion of your movie without picking up on any of these supposedly deep and clever contrivances you've woven around it.
I hope you also realize, Mr. Gilroy, that the people who do figure out your greater agenda, that the people who follow your film all the way from the opening credits to the insipid ending that flips the entire ordeal on top of itself-- those people aren't going to declare you some brilliant genius of self-reflective intrigue. Oh no, not in the least. Those people, like me-- I, Mr. Gilroy, only feel insulted that I spent my night watching what I thought was an entertaining puzzle caper film, only to discover at its conclusion that I've been force-fed some kind of ulterior motive, some greater purpose, some backhanded commentary the entire time.
I think you want people to gasp and ponder over your brilliance after watching your film, Mr. Gilroy. But let me tell you something: brilliance cannot be borne of nothing, and you have yourself declared within your film that your film is actually nothing at all.
What's more, when I watch a movie, I expect to either learn something worthwhile or feel something worthwhile. The turn-you-on-your-head-when-you-least-expect-it-right-at-the-very-end filmmaking device has been done before, and it has been done successfully (see: Mulholland Dr.) so that in retrospect, there is more that can be learned and more that can be felt. In your film, Mr. Gilroy, you add together the pieces of a potentially fulfilling story and then go and say that nothing we've felt or learned during its course is valid. In your film, you take away all feelings and all intelligence at the end in some poorly-conceived narrative heist and go running off to God-knows-what remote location to store it away in some untraceable marble vault so you can sit out in the sun flipping the bird to me and the rest of the world while you feel like the smartest guy on the planet.
Not so fast. Mr. Gilroy, your film Duplicity was an insulting experience. When I watch a movie, the last thing I want is to be insulted.
And that's why, Mr. Gilroy, I have written you this strongly worded letter.
Wishing You the Plague or Some Other Unfortunate Ill,
Adam's Bruised and Abused Brain
(In case you were wondering, Duplicity gets a C- from me.)