Paris, 1890. Handsome and resourceful, George Duroy (Robert Pattinson), eventually to be known to his circle as Bel Ami, is offered a job as a journalist on political newspaper La Vie Francaise and ascends to the rank of editor - with a little help from Madame Forestier (Uma Thurman), wife of the boss. This is his first but not last he encounter with the realities of corrupt Parisien high society: the sleazy colleagues, the wily financiers, and manipulative mistresses. He becomes an adept manipulator himself, in a world where 'love' is only a means to end. But he's not as expert at cynical manipulation as the others.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Guy de Maupassant's elegant writing, economical but effective characterisations and sharp story telling skills are not much in evidence in this rather clumsy adaptation of a story about a young soldier back from the Algerian front who is invited into a society he never imagined to be so amoral.
The early scenes in the offices of the politically active newspaper, La Vie Parisienne, look fabulous but seem lifeless and forced - as do many other scenes.
Robert Pattinson doesn't seem to fit his character, neither culturally nor through his characterisation as Georges Dury. It's not that he's bad, but he's not convincing. Christina Ricci, however, is effective and emotionally engaging as Clotilde, a young married woman seduced by Georges - or perhaps it's the other way round. Kristin Scott Thomas has a dramatic journey as the woman who resists his charms - at first, anyway and Uma Thurman is a standout as the manipulative, ambitious and ultimately steel hearted Madeleine Forestier.
I have reservations about the talented actor Colm Meaney as a French newspaper man but Natalia Tena makes a big impression in a small role as a whore in a chaotic bar, frequented by Georges.
But performances aside, the film's weaknesses reside in its choppy structure, perfunctory treatment of many passages of change in the central characters' lives and in the befuddled handling of the key elements, from the gradual ensnarement of Georges through to the explosive moments of revelation when he realises he's been exploited and taken for a naďve country bumpkin - exactly what he had wanted to avoid, ashamed as he is by his father illiteracy and poverty.
Neither the rhythm-challenged editing nor the heavy handed score do much to help the film's emotional flatness.
Review by Louise Keller:
It is the wives in this adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's novel that hold the aces and appropriately, it is Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott-Thomas who play the winning hands in this film about a scoundrel who uses seduction to climb the rungs of 19th Century Paris society. He might have fangs in Twilight, but here, heartthrob Robert Pattinson has bitten off more than he can chew, unable to spit out the easy confidence required of a man whose passport to success bears the stamp of sex, lies and adultery.
The fact that English language is used in this essentially French story is the least of its problems. The production design sweeps us away to 1890 Paris, when elegance and chic sparkle brightly in the ornate drawing rooms of the upper class and unbridled longings become fulfilled when a tightly bound corset is hurriedly untied. This is the world to which the penniless Georges Duroy (Pattinson) aspires, following his military service in Algeria and to which an old army colleague Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) introduces him.
When Forestier, who works as the political editor at La Vie Francaise newspaper invites him home for dinner, he introduces him to the three women with whom he becomes involved. Uma Thurman ably plays Forestier's sexy and empowered wife Madeleine, who huskily declares she is not like other women; Kristin Scott Thomas plays Virginie Walters, the stitched-up wife of the newspaper boss and Christina Ricci is the wide-eyed Clotilde de Marelle, whose husband is conveniently often absent.
What should be a claustrophobic, sensual and intense diversion of musical beds in the vein of Dangerous Liaisons, results in an exposition that is far too tame with Pattinson's expressions limited and self-conscious, unlike the natural predatory sexuality from John Malkovich when he seduced Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1988 film.
Duroy puts a smile on all his women's faces, albeit not for long as his needs and ambitions swell. Similarly Rachel Portman's distinctive musical score (with Lakshman Joseph De Saram) swells as it reflects the questioning nature of the narrative. Directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod are unable to inject the required weight or significance of Duroy's sexually manipulative actions; like the women involved, we should be devastated. Instead, I felt a whimper of curious interest but with none of the passion required.
Email this article
BEL AMI (MA15+)
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci, Natalia Tena, Colm Meaney, Holly Grainger, Philip Glanister, Pip Torrens
PRODUCER: Uberto Pasolini
DIRECTOR: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod
SCRIPT: Rachel Bennette (story by Guy de Maupassant)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stefano Falivene
EDITOR: Gavin Buckley, Masahiro Hirakubo
MUSIC: Rachel Portman, Lakshman Joseph De Saram
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Attila Kovács
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 24, 2012