DIRECTOR: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
SOME actors are in their element in period sagas, think Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice, Shakespeare in Love) and James McAvoy (Becoming Jane), and others – like Robert Pattinson – are still finding their feet.
Pattinson first caught my eye when cast as vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight film.
What’s praiseworthy about this 26-year-old British actor is the progress he is making by taking on diverse characters. Sometimes, as with Remember Me, he is truly unforgettable, and, as with Water for Elephants, rather pedestrian.
But in this infancy stage of a career that will no doubt remain long-lasting, he is allowed to go against the grain with his roles. And aficionados will pardon his poor choices as he is in that trial and error phase as an actor.
Giving the nod to essay Georges Duroy in Bel Ami, which is based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel of the same title, is a daring under-taking. More so as he stars along-side Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci.
Set in Paris circa 1890, Georges, a soldier, tries to ingratiate himself into the lives of the elite. It is at a dinner with an egotistical Forestier and Rousset, the ruthlessly ambitious political editor of La Vie Française, that an opportunistic Georges realises his future is entrenched with wooing the women of the influential men he crosses paths with.
When Madeleine (Thurman) intimates that Georges’s diary of life in the army would make a nice addition to the newspaper, it sets in motion a chain of events that feeds his obsession with ascending the ranks of Paris’s most wealthy and influential.
Taking full advantage of his knack for charming women, Georges manages to bed a lonely Clotilde (Ricci), who feeds him information on a soon-to-be-widowed Madeleine (whom he ends up marrying). But his insatiable need for power and money isn’t satiated – in a fit of rage and an act of vengeance he has an affair with Madame Virginie Rousset (Scott Thomas), only to retaliate against them all by marrying her young daughter.
Despite the political undertones among the lead characters, lucidity and continuity isn’t a priority for the makers. Even Thurman’s revolutionary character is hinted at. But the full scope of Madeleine’s involvement isn’t explored.
Pattinson does a commendable job of concealing the depravity of his character under a veneer of charm – and rage. Thurman, Ricci and Scott Thomas are all his pawns and stepping stones for him. The first is overpowering and very politically-minded, the second very sexual and playful and the third, surprisingly, an emotional time bomb after falling in love with him.
Getting stage directors to capture this dark and multi-faceted tale boomerangs in the bumpy and flawed narration of a story done several times over in cinema, might not have been an astute move given that the platforms are poles apart. Although the milieu and costumes lend credence to the genteel era, the treatment of the stories fail to stir much emotion.
Even though the female characters are manipulated, scorned, ridiculed and made to feel worthless, viewers aren’t gripped by rage and disgust.
Make no mistake about it, Bel Ami isn’t a sweeping romance. It is about deliberate seduction, manipulation and dangerous ambitions of a man determined to do anything to keep from being trapped in the clutches of poverty.
If you liked… Water for Elephants and A Dangerous Method… you will probably enjoy this.