Robert Pattinson Drains Life From Misguided ‘Bel Ami’
CHICAGO – Robert Pattinson is such a divisive actor. While he’s clearly one of the most popular young stars in the world thanks to his work in the “Twilight” films, he has yet to prove to most people that he can really act. While some who have seen David Cronenberg’s upcoming “Cosmopolis” claim that this will be the film that finally allows Pattinson to break out of the franchise that has defined him, we’re stuck with something far lesser for now. The misguided and depressing “Bel Ami” is a film that does nothing to help the critical reputation of the man otherwise known as Edward Cullen.
The problem is that I somehow want to defend Pattinson. I think there’s something there. Cronenberg is one of the smartest men in filmmaking and he saw something in this brooding young actor. And so what’s the defense for this mess? He was in over his head and was miscast from the beginning. It’s not his fault that he got thrown into the deep end with more talented swimmers and drowns in this misguided costume drama.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures
“Bel Ami,” based on Guy de Maupassant’s second novel, is a tale that requires a charismatic, fascinating lead. And Pattinson doesn’t work as the manipulative cad that this story demands. It doesn’t help that his character arc requires him to not only seduce but get emotionally entangled with truly charismatic actors like Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Christina Ricci. It’s hard to believe any of them would give Pattinson a second glance.
Pattinson plays Georges Duroy in this relatively traditional arc of a poor man who becomes a rich one by using his sexual draw in place of his lacking social grace or intelligence. The film opens with Duroy arriving in Paris in 1890 after serving in the French Army in Algeria. As hunger and poverty threaten to overtake him, he runs into an Army colleague named Forestier (Philip Glenister), who offers him some work writing for a Parisian newspaper. Duroy has limited skills and begins working with Forestier’s beautiful wife Madeleine (Thurman) on his articles while generally starting to rub his superiors at the newspaper the wrong way.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures
Meanwhile, Duroy begins climbing the social ladder of Paris by sleeping with its powerful women. Over the course of “Bel Ami,” he will sleep with Madeleine, the editor’s wife Virginie (Thomas), and the emotional Clotilde (Ricci). While the three ladies try their damnedest to make these seductions feel genuine, they have mixed results. Ricci finds a subtle sweetness to her role that’s often missing from her performances but it doesn’t seem to mix well with her character. Thomas is miscast as she’s such a strong actress that one simply cannot believe the way she fawns over Pattinson. Only Thurman comes out well as she gets to play her strong character and sexuality.
Pattinson’s cipher of a character is not the only flaw of “Bel Ami” as directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod can’t find the atmosphere for the piece. The film never feels genuine, coming across as what I like to call a “dress-up piece” more than a period drama. We never lose sight of Robert Pattinson and Uma Thurman to get involved in George Duroy and Madeleine Forestier and that’s not only a flaw of the performances but the technical elements that simply don’t come off as believable. It doesn’t help that the directors shoot everything in generic close-up. The film has no character, no personality – almost as if it’s trying to visually match its lead performer.