"Despite telling a compelling tale, infused with eroticism and wit, Bel Ami suffers from attempting perhaps too much..."
One of the good things about having two directors - in Bel Ami's case British duo Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan - is that the blame can be shared between two when the final product is somewhat lacklustre and uninspiring.
Based on Guy de Maupassant's 1885 novel of the same name, Bel Ami is set in 19th century Paris, focusing on a young man's rise to power within the high society, using and manipulating the most influential and affluent women to help levitate himself up the socio-political ladder.
Robert Pattinson plays Georges Duroy, a former soldier, vying for a new life and wealth, using charm and sexual prowess as his weapons of manipulation. He works his way through the wives of the most powerful men in Paris, such as Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas) whilst going one step further and actively marrying Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman) following the death of her husband, landing a job as a roving political journalist in the meantime.
Despite telling a compelling tale, infused with eroticism and wit, Bel Ami suffers from attempting perhaps too much, resulting in a quite messy production, certainly blameworthy of being a bit all over the place. Georges manages to propel himself to wealth and glory with little explanation, deeming his rise somewhat false and questionable. A fault, perhaps, of the pace in which film moves - too fast but without actually moving forward. Such acceleration within the story disallows for any emotional attachment to any character, although perhaps this is intentional, as we see the world through Georges’s heartless and cold-blooded eyes.
Despite the rather irritating and smug grin forming on the side of Pattinson's mouth throughout the feature, it works well in encapsulating the character at hand, which, in fairness, Pattinson manages to pull off, capturing the self-satisfaction and assurance that Georges possesses, as well as the juvenile, petulant side which sees Georges land himself in all sorts of bother. It's fair to say that Pattinson appears to have a brighter future in cinema than Daniel Radcliffe, as the pair are both vying to escape from the clutches of the dreaded franchise typecasting. And for Pattinson there will be few roles to play more enjoyable than this one, as the lucky bugger spends the majority of the film with his tongue down someone's throat.
The smugness and abrasiveness of Georges does provide the feature with its humour, as he is so pathetically, albeit successfully, manipulative of women, it becomes rather comical towards the end, adding a light-hearted touch to an otherwise regulatory and somewhat emotionless picture.
On a more positive note however, the feature certainly looks the part, depicting Parisian culture of the 19th century well, with an array of smart top hats and intriguing moustaches, adding to the general ambience of the film, looking stylistic and voguish. The filmmakers will certainly have been left disappointed not to have earned an Oscar nomination for costume design at the very least.
Bel Ami is not a bad film, it's just not as triumphant as it deserves to be. Based on a novel rich in joie de vivre, by a majestic author, in a beautiful city and depicted via a host of esteemed performers, Bel Ami should be glowing, yet what transpires is a run-of-the-mill, ordinary feature, enjoyable in parts but ultimately failing to live up to its expectations.