Duplicity: Flashback and Forth

Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson as the duelling CEOS in "Duplicity," a movie with a lot of flashback-and-forth.

"A film should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order," cracked French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard ("Breathless," "Alphaville") who famously reinvigorated movie narrative with fractures and jump-cut flash-forwards.

I thought of Godard's crack during "Duplicity," Tony Gilroy's sleek spy-versus-spy story that pits American agent Julia Roberts against her British counterpart Clive Owen. Through a series of flashbacks-within-flash-forwards, Gilroy (whose "Michael Clayton" likewise scrambled its chronology) makes the viewer wonder whether Roberts and Owen are in conflict or cahoots. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the film's erotic byplay and was warmed by its considerable starpower, by the fifth flashback I lost hold of the (very tangled) narrative thread. Has this happened to you in films such as "Memento," "Synechdoche, NY" and "Adaptation"?

It's hardly a new trend,.Preston Sturges used it in his very complex screenplay for "The Power and the Glory" (1933), itself a huge influence on the fractured narrative of "Citizen Kane" (1941). But in certain films, this flashback-and-forth is exhausting. Thoughts?