The dizzying recitals of greed, lust and betrayal that occur throughout directors Declan Donnelan’s and Nick Ormerod’s Bel Ami are exhausted by the time one reaches the final scene. Based on Guy de Maupassant’s beloved French novel, Bel Ami is set in 1890s France within a social circle of wealthy newspaper journalists. The novel, which was released in the early 1900s, is a scandalous page-turner packed with story and fleshed-out character plot lines. In sum: the opposite of what emerges from its screen adaption.
Robert Pattinson plays our leading lad, Georges DuRoy, who has a salacious appetite for sex and finer things. Frequently blaming his greed on growing up poor, DuRoy is offered his own column at La Vie Française after bumping into the paper’s sub-editor, Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), an old war buddy, at a brothel. From here, we witness DuRoy fall in lust with Forestier’s wife (Uma Thurman, in a decent turn), who ghostwrites his first assignment. Mme. Forestier ensures DuRoy she will never give him the time of day; they are to remain good friends. Instead, she insists DuRoy make a pass at her friend Clotilde (Christina Ricci), whose husband is frequently away. Cue the marathon of sexual escapades chock full of deceit and carnal ploys for revenge.
The clenched performance of DuRoy by vampire hunk Pattinson may be an additional reason for the film’s bumpy ride. He’s charming and brooding, sure, and you initially root for him once you believe in his desires, but Pattinson’s inability to achieve the key intimidating demeanor or any ounce of spark with the three leading ladies he beds (Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas) causes his performance to suffer from a lack of sustenance.
Lucky for DuRoy, Forestier soon dies of consumption, providing him with the opportunity to jump right into marrying Mme. Forestier, now Mme. DuRoy, and take over the paper. As DuRoy continues his rise to the top, it becomes confusing as to whether we should be rooting for our main character or not. The filmmakers neglect to provide DuRoy with an essential dose of empathy, making it tempting to view him as a devious chump. Allowing the audience a glimpse at the dirt floor DuRoy slept on as a child or showing him sending money home to his poor old Dad would have done wonders for his likability level.
Bel Ami is a true period piece, with a lovely exhibition of costumes and scenery, which means the film is visually pleasing. A voluminous amount of anecdotes from the French novel is crammed into the film, which saturates it and bogs it down. This neither produces an accurate adaption of the novel or an entertaining watch. Instead, jumbled and rushed scenes, as well as the use of brief references recounted quickly by characters, results in an if-you-blink-you-miss-it tale. It is understandable why Robert Pattinson jumped into this mature role, in an attempt to move from the Twilight series and onto a worthwhile career path, but unfortunately this role wasn’t the right fit, even with the presence of his three female co-stars.
Directors: Declan Donnelan & Nick Ormerod
Writers: Guy de Maupassant (novel), Rachel Bennette (screenplay)
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, and Kristin Scott Thomas
Release Date: June 8, 2012