Robert Pattinson has worked very hard to try and break free of the reputation he gained after getting involved with the Twilight saga. He clearly wants to be taken seriously as an actor and has done whatever he can to distance himself from the vampire franchise. His latest attempt to reinvent himself is Bel Ami, a period film based on the Guy de Maupassant novel of the same name.
It tells the tale of Georges Duroy (Pattinson), a down-on-his-luck former soldier who gets a boost after running into a former comrade in Paris. Duroy is given an opportunity to rub elbows with some of Paris’s elite class, getting to know a bevy of interesting and powerful women. He starts as a journalist writing stories about his time in Algeria, but soon starts to use his guile to manipulate the people around him – especially the women – and eventually rises up the ranks of the social hierarchy.
It’s a twisted tale of back-room politics and social climbing, and throughout the film, the women in Georges life are drawn to him for one reason or another. One of them likes him because he is easily manipulated. One because he gives her the attention her husband does not.
The women are an interesting mix, with Uma Thurman playing the sly, politically-active wife of Georges soldier friend, the always great Kirsten Scott Thomas as the aging but still lively wife of the chief of newspapers and Christina Ricci giving a charming performance as a lonely noblewoman looking for companionship.
The problem, though, is that Georges is inherently an unlikeable character and seems to have nothing going for him that would catch the eye of any successful woman.
He is good looking, sure, and he has the knack of saying the right things at the perfect time to catch the eye of anyone he meets, but his failings as a man are so blatant that it’s hard to believe anyone would stay hooked on him for long.
Georges is not very intelligent, he’s not very charming and is, in fact, somewhat cruel. He seems to have little interest in these women as people and only seems to care about improving his social standing and having sex with anyone he finds attractive regardless of their – or his – marital status.
Whether it’s a flaw in the story or with Pattinson, it’s hard to say. The character is a wet blanket, but fails to give him any flair at all, playing up Georges anger and bitterness while disregarding anything else. This is probably the best work that Pattinson has done so far, but even so, the character comes across as one-dimensional.
The film could have been great, too. The costumes and cinematography are notable and Rachel Portman’s score is wonderful. But as good as those things are, they are merely window-dressing if the story falls flat, and it does here.
Most of the cast really does the best they can with the material, but the canvas they’re working with is so uninteresting that it’s hard to make an impression.