A plotless tale of Parisian adultery, debut directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod’s adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel Bel Ami certainly boasts some fine performances, but leaves us with nothing else.
It is 1890 and ex-cavalry officer Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) arrives in Paris having completed three years military service in Algeria, looking for a well-paid job. On one of his frequent visits to a Parisian brothel he meets former comrade Forester, and with the phrase ‘come and meet my wife’, Duroy begins to ascend the social ladder, landing himself a job at Forester’s newspaper ‘La Vie Francais’. The wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) and her two friends Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas) fall for Georges immediately and take him under their wings as their ‘Bel Ami’.
However harshly he may have been judged for being the ‘mega hotty’ of the Twilight series, Pattinson has stepped up a level by taking this role in Bel Ami and casually sweeps his past performances aside (Twilight, Remember Me, Water For Elephants) as though they were simply a warm up exercise for his career ahead. Playing Georges Duroy as a dashing but unlikeable man – a younger, more attractive Richard E Grant, Pattinson seems genuinely to fit in with the other actors, not using them as a support like many young talents try to do, but becoming one of them, integrating himself into their standards of acting.
Among the talented performances of his three lovers, Christina Ricci’s stands out as one of the finest, adding a certain warmth and understanding to her character that the other two lack for most of the film. The main problem, however, is with the story.
As Duroy moves from one woman to another and then back again with a flurry of violins, it becomes apparent that nothing too exciting is going to happen. The film is undoubtedly an authentic portrayal of Parisian life, where the men are out trying to change the world while their wives stay inside ruling the household, but it seems a little too detached to hold any interest to a modern audience. French sex, wine and soft cheese may have made for an entertaining novel at the end of the 19th century, but in this age the story lacks the strength to stand up for itself, begging the question would this film make any money if the chiselled faced teen sensation wasn’t in it?
The teenage girls in the audience might not get bored of Robert Pattinson’s gyrating arse, but it’s a fair assumption to say that everyone else will.