From cadaver to cad – Bel Ami review

Bel Ami – Starring Robert Pattinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Christina Ricci. Directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

Bel Ami tells the saucy story of Georges Duroy’s (Robert Pattinson) ascension in French society through his connections with some of Paris’ most powerful men’s wives, and should be a no-brainer for costume drama enthusiasts. Unfortunately, no amount of smouldering on the part of Pattinson can save this unevenly paced film, which wastes its talented cast and doesn’t know whether it’s a serious drama or a playful tongue-in-cheek romp.

Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod direct this adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel, set in 1890’s France as Georges returns penniless from the French Army. While out drinking he runs into an old acquaintance, Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), a newspaper editor who invites him home and offers him an employment opportunity. It is at this dinner that Georges first meets the three women he will use to get what he wants; Madeleine (Uma Thurman), Clotilde (Christina Ricci), and Madame Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas).

While Georges employs his charm to bed each woman and in turn propel his career to a new level, he is never truly happy, as his desire for power doesn’t allow him to be with the woman he loves. Adding to this is Georges’ discovery that he may not be the only person playing games and using people for personal gain.

While Pattinson fanatics will enjoy his performance – especially the scenes in the boudoir – this movie isn’t likely to impress those naysayers who think Pattinson’s career won’t extend beyond Twilight. Perhaps the lacklustre performances are a result of this being the feature directorial debut for Donnellan and Ormerod, who don’t seem to be sure which tone they want their picture to have. Surprisingly, screenwriter Rachel Bennette delivers a solid adaptation despite her limited experience. And yet, despite such talent as Ricci and Scott Thomas being present, the elements just don’t add up.

Where Bel Ami does excel is in the costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, who brought a similar elegance to 2009’s An Education, and the original music by Lakshman Joseph De Saram and Rachel Portman, which delights and distracts from the film’s shortcomings. Additionally, it’s easy to get swept up in the lush interiors thanks to Anna Lynch-Robinson’s set decoration, whose work on the upcoming Les Miserables should be much anticipated.

For such a sexually charged story of passion, adultery and cutthroat social climbing, Bel Ami fails to reach the heights that would make this memorable.


Bel Ami arrives in Australian cinemas May 24, 2012.

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