Robert Pattinson stars in Bel Ami as Georges Duroy, a young man who seduces his way to the top in Paris, a role clearly trying to break the actor out of his current Twilight shell.
Based on the novel of the same name by Guy de Maupassant, Bel Ami opens with Georges, a peasant, meeting an old friend, Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), who is intrigued enough by the pauper to invite him into his household and life.
Charles introduces Georges to three socialites: Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci), Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his own wife, Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman). All of different ages but equally spoken for, the three women are instantly taken by the charming Georges in their own ways.
During dinner, the idea of Georges dabbling with writing for the newspaper emerges, and he takes the challenge. Madeleine says she will help him with the first piece to get started and while they write she gives insight into her friends, explaining that Virginie admires him and Clotilde's husband is absent often.
And there the stage is set for Georges to seduce all three ladies at different times and for various reasons of his own. He starts with the young Clotilde out of pure attraction, fascination and love, but with each lover, he grows more sinister. Soon, he creates a complicated web of deceit and disgust all culminating with the last relationship he starts towards the end of the film.
Never having had power or wealth, and now quickly earning it due to his relationships, Georges can't seem to find a balance and suffers from the “new money” greed that haunts many a character in this genre of literature.
Pattinson tries his best to capture the essence of Georges, a man who can be enchanting one moment and downright repulsive the next. On many levels, Pattinson succeeds in breaking the mold his past success has made for him (the audience even sees some intense lovemaking scenes), but at times, the character's arc falls flat.
The leading man has the most chemistry with the woman he cares for the most, played by Ricci. Clotilde is also the most likable character in the film for the audience. She's a smart girl but is hopelessly in love with a dangerous man. Ricci is ravishing here, in a refreshing return to the forefront of the silver screen.
Thurman portrays the most pragmatic of the women, but she stills falls under Georges' spell and the necessity to have a man in her life. She sports a decent British accent and encompasses Madeleine admirably, but nothing is too memorable regarding her emotions or layers of character.
Pattinson has the least amount of chemistry with Thomas as Virginie, but the two's relationship is so forced and muddled that perhaps it works in this instance. Thomas—a stellar actress—elevates Virginie, the innocent and full-of-despair victim to Georges' tantalizing persuasions. Though not a good fit with Pattinson, Thomas holds her own acting-wise and does leave an impression.
Adaptations from book to film are never perfect and here is no exception. It is obvious that Rachel Bennette's screenplay had to chop through Bel Ami's character development and important points for time. Nearly as soon as each person is introduced, they are thrown into the plot, full of possibly captivating deceptions, but since the characters are not cared about before these events occur, it all feels stale.
Many lines of dialogue verge on the ridiculous and melodramatic and often fall into the Lifetime movie side of a period drama. This is Bennette's first feature film screenplay, and it shows with undefined individuals lacking any kind of uniqueness.
Co-directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod are also first timers to the big screen, which might account for some of the strained scenes and mediocre acting from the stars. Something playing in the film's favor is its costume and production design, which keep the average story at least looking alluring, as the movie strives to be.
Trying to rid his image of Edward Cullen, Pattinson appears here as an incredibly unlikable man scrounging around to discover his place in society and maybe even a point to his life. Twihards would watch Pattinson read the phone book, but a piece like this might do him more harm than show his range as an actor. He doesn't quite master the love-to-hate-him element of his character, and viewers are left with a terrible taste for Georges and the actions he just performed.
Although it is messy and not seamless, Bel Ami isn't actually offensive and entertains for its 102-minute run time. If the film could have focused on Ricci and Pattinson more, it would have worked better, but then that would have changed the story completely.
Bel Ami is now playing in theaters.
For more information, visit the film’s official website.