Adapted from Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel ‘Bel Ami’ revels in a golden era’s trappings. Set in the Parisian Belle Époque period in the late 19th Century its costume designers have a field day with its visual splendours. The rich imagery goes a long way in hiding some of the film’s faults with the boudoirs and salons looking suitably dazzling. Film-makers love playing ‘dress-up’ although in this case some time spent on a decent script would have worked wonders.
Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) unexpectedly meets an old friend who suddenly changes his life. Happily lead along a path littered with untold riches and unbridled desires, he studies the ways of the nouveau riche. Using good looks and charm on various ladies including Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and Madeleine (Uma Thurman), his sexual and monetary conquests are many. Whilst much fun is had, harsh lessons await with society’s upper echelons keeping a close eye on his progress.
‘Bel Ami’ is a classic example of a ‘name’ star ruining a production. Whilst Robert Pattinson has found great fame as the surly vampire in the Twilight films, his limited range is easily seen. Indulging in the smouldering and pouting which gained him many fans, this doesn’t equate to characterisation. Georges is meant to be a morally bankrupt and wicked person using any means to climb the top. His dogged determination drives his actions – emotions Pattinson fails to register.
Not helping is a screenplay more focussed on sexual shenanigans than drama. When it explores the latter ‘Bel Ami’ works reasonably well even if there’s a feeling of much being left out of the original novel. A shame as the period setting looks spectacular. As with any film the story is the prime concern and it fails to leave any memorable mark. Ricci, Thurman and the rest of the cast are fine and seem to have a better grasp of their roles than their lead co-star.
Barely registering on the radar, ‘Bel Ami’ becomes a well-designed exercise in emptiness. The dearth of strong direction is evident and this is one of the poorer recent costume dramas with the lack of passion diluting much of the book’s power.
Rating out of 10: 5