[Review] – Bel Ami

18 Jun

Title: Bel Ami
Year: 2012
Directors: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Writer: Rachel Bennette, based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci, Colm Meaney
MPAA Rating: R, some strong sexuality, nudity and brief language
Runtime: 102 min
IMDb Rating: 5.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%
Metacritic: 41

While on break from shooting Twilight movies, Robert Pattinson still made films that tended to his status as a heartthrob in a way, and that the same girls that screamed their asses off for him as Edward Cullen would want to see. And while 2010’s Remember Me and last year’s Water for Elephants were decent (I gave them a B- and a B, respectively), I always wanted to see what Mr. Pattinson would do with his career when he hung up the fangs for good. And now that he’s done with the vampire franchise, with the last installment The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 due this November, he’s seemingly trying some far edgier material to distance himself from that sort of pigeon hole he had been boxed in.

Well, the real test for me will be to see how he teams up with David Cronenberg for Cosmopolis, a film I’m really looking forward to and that will definitely see the actor way out of his comfort zone. But first up we have Bel Ami, another film that many of the girls that see Twilight won’t be allowed to go into, and in which he tackles the role of Georges Duroy, a young man in late-19th century Paris who goes from rag to riches by sleeping his way to the top of French society, bedding a series of very wealthy and influential women who fall to his powers of seduction and manipulation.

The result, by the way, is nothing special, and we’re still going to have to wait for Cosmopolis to see what Mr. Pattinson can really bring to the fold while he’s not playing a vampire that glitters under the sun. The best thing about this film is that at times it feels like a soap opera, and you can get that guilty pleasure sort of vibe from some of the moments. But the fact remains that with the cast this one had, you could most certainly be expecting some really impressive performances to go with that, and yet we get a film that speeds by whatever kind of narrative momentum it may have found, and that has Mr. Pattinson front and center delivering a performance that’s really forgettable.

Here’s what I think really was the problem. The film is based on a Guy de Maupassant novel published in 1885 and was first adapted into films in 1939 and then in the 1949 English-language version that starred George Sanders and Angela Lansbury. That was of course a time in which this sort of scenario that the film proposes had far more resonance. In which people were far more reserved because of society and in which what happened in the private chambers of these women really was different than the image they presented outside of them.

This film however, directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, even though is still set in the same time period, is made in modern times, which as a consequence makes it far more explicit, both in the sexual acts and in how they speak of them in a far more straightforward and direct manner. And even though at times that lends this one a sort of edge that I liked, particularly at the beginning of the movie which I thought was far better than what followed, the fact of the matter is that this one doesn’t feel as smart as it should be to really pull it off the right way.

I really do think that part of the problem lies with Mr. Pattinson’s performance. He has to bed his way to the top of French society by bedding three high-class women played by Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci. But I think that because the script, adapted by Rachel Bennette, takes this sort of approach in which we go from one point to the next kind of like clockwork, it takes away whatever chance we have of a more complex character development, we just follow Georges from one bed to the next. And Mr. Pattinson really isn’t that good an actor that he can do good stuff with such limited material, and as such we get a performance that just feels super strained in a way, every expression he makes as a guy who doesn’t at first know how to deal with this new world he’s in is pretty bad, and you can’t believe that these three women ever fell for him.

I actually wanted to like Bel Ami, because I want to like Mr. Pattinson as an actor as much as I like Kristen Stewart, who I think is absolutely wonderful, and yet this film just wasn’t the one to make that happen. And it started off so nicely, like a film I could see myself recommending as it showed how Georges was so hungry for power and how even though he had only one skill he could maybe make it to the top. But then the film just starts jetting off forward, and we get absolutely no real character development, and the stuff that should have been explored, all the detailed social observations we should have gotten, are rushed by far too fast.

Robert Pattinson’s first post-Twilight at-bat was a swing and a miss. Not precisely all his fault, but it showed he’s not good enough an actor to really carry mediocre material by himself into something decent, at least not yet. Still tremendously psyched for Cosmopolis though, and apparently him and David Cronenberg are sticking together for their next film, so at the very least the guy knows who to go cling to to try and achieve greatness, and if someone as talented as Mr. Cronenberg is letting him do so, there really must be something more to him we haven’t sen yet. For now, though, he’s just a brooding shiny vampire.

Grade: C+

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