“Leapfrog or Box?” someone asks Clive Owen.

I am watching Duplicity, the new Tony Gilroy film starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. It’s about spies. Clive is one. And he and a partner are trying to lose a “tail” following Clive on the streets of Manhattan.

“Leapfrog or Box?” he is asked again.

“Leapfrog,” Clive answers.

Suddenly the move is made. Clive’s partner runs interference, and Clive escapes to meet his contact.

Throughout Duplicity, I am dropped into the lingo and etiquette of corporate spies. And though I get the sense it’s just mumbo jumbo (are there such elude-a-tail strategies?), I don’t care.  It’s fun stuff!

And rushing to keep up with what’s happening, true or not, is a big part of what makes it fun.

In my class I harp on the importance of conflict; it’s what attracts our attention. And one of the best ways to increase the conflict in any movie is to make me, the audience, “lean forward” to stay with what’s happening. The conflict is my need to know vs. the movie’s effort to, in a sense, keep me at arm’s length. And keeping me guessing beats the overkill of explaining what’s happening every time.

As an audience, we do not have to know everything as it unfolds at the exact time it’s unfolding. But what we do need to keep our eye on, and what writers must deliver, is: the bouncing ball. What’s that?

When we hear a pitch, read a script, or see the finished product onscreen, the “bouncing ball” is how the hero or heroes are transforming. I am a caveman. I read 1000 different caveman details watching a movie. And in truth it’s usually not the plot details, but the more primal, more human points of interest.

I don’t have to be told anything to keep up — so long as I am given a story at base about a hero who is transforming, and all the plot, all the lingo, is just on the surface of the primal part that’s the real story:

How does this person begin, how does he end, and why is this story we’re telling “the most important event that will ever happen to him or her”?

That’s all I care about. Throw jargon at me, mislead me with plot devices, dazzle me with locations, but keep me interested in the “Turn, Turn, Turn” of character change. We do not have to explain anything more.

Does Duplicity do that? I will leave that for you to decide. But I will say that plot-wise, detail-wise, I was just one step behind the entire time — and that’s a good thing, especially in the hands of a master like Gilroy, who displayed similar technique in the brilliant Michael Clayton.

I wonder what “Box” is? Maybe I’ll find out in Duplicity 2!