Bel Ami (2012)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Stories about villains are never as popular as those about heroes. Indeed, anyone writing such a story needs a credible cast in order to carry off the charm that will outweigh (at least for the audience) the deplorable behavior of any cad. Bel Ami is one such tale that would have felt more realistic with another leading man.
Newly returned to France after a stint in the army, Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) is in search of financial security. Living on pennies with the hope of more profitable future adventures, when he encounters an old friend he believes that his life of poverty may begin to change. His friend's wife Madeline (Uma Thurman) offers him some solid advice -- the way to power in France is not through men, but their wives. Georges takes this to heart and it is not long before he is engaged in an affair with the beautiful Clotilde (Christina Ricci). Their adulterous trysts form the backdrop for his rise to success as a newspaper man, something the other journalists come to resent as it becomes apparent that it is not talent that keeps him employed so much as the favors of the women of high society that like him.
Over time, Georges will form attachments and manipulate each of these females to his will... including the lonely and moralistic Virginie (Kristen Scott Thomas). But when events move against him, the world he has constructed may very well crumble into dust.
I'm going to preface this by saying I like Rob Pattinson, but here he is woefully out of his depth, possessing neither the chemistry with his costars nor the sex appeal needed to play a man like Georges. The script does him no favors and neither does the make up department, which means that through most of it, I was wondering what ever possessed the high society wives of Paris to fall for this utterly un-charming, sallow, sour-faced cad, who neither romances them nor really seduces them. Why do four of them fall into his arms? It defies all reason and is a shame, because the women are wonderful. He is just not their equal in terms of experience or charisma. This takes an otherwise gorgeous costume drama, full of beautiful clothes and exquisite period decor, down a notch and some of it can be blamed on a script that rushes so quickly onward that very little time is devoted to his relationship with any of these women.
In some ways, the movie reminds me a bit of Dangerous Liasons but without the ultimate payback for this bad behavior. "Bel Ami" as the women are fond of calling him, gets away with whatever he likes, is absurdly jealous of his wife's indiscretions, seduces one woman merely to humiliate her husband, and in the end gets everything he wants through manipulation, seduction, and deceit. There really is no one to root for, since all of them are adulterous (except for the lovely Holliday Grainger, in a small but important part) and immoral, in more ways than one.
Most costume dramas, I feel, benefit from hints rather than overt behavior. This film could have been just as beautiful (and still just as morally reprehensible) with less content, particularly considering that there are a great many teenage girls who will want to see it thanks to its leading man.
Our Rating: 2 out of 5
Three graphic sex scenes (one six minutes in, with a prostitute/backside nudity; another spread out in a montage, and a third that implies it isn't pleasant for the man); female nudity.