In “Bel Ami,” Robert Pattinson's latest film, he further spreads his wings — and, no, they don’t belong to vampire bats.
Poor Robert Pattinson. Critics have been beating the daylights out of the “Twiight” star ever since the series catapulted him to superstardom and rabid female fandom.
He has since underwhelmed in the forgettable “Remember Me” and the ponderous “Water for Elephants.”
In “Bel Ami,” his latest film, Pattinson further spreads his wings — and, no, they don’t belong to vampire bats. So did he soar to the heavens with those wings? Let’s be kind and say he flapped them furiously and managed to fly a few feet off the ground. Give him credit for trying.
In the film, based on a novel by Guy de Maupassant, Pattinson plays Georges Duroy, a ruthless seducer of women in 1890 Paris. Fans of “Twilight’s” Edward might be shocked at watching their hero treat women so callously. Maybe seeing his posterior in the film’s numerous love scenes will assuage them.
When we first meet Georges, he’s a down-and-out clerk looking through a window at the wealthy enjoying gourmet food in opulent surroundings. He ends up at a seedy establishment populated by prostitutes. There, he meets Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), who served with Georges in the war in Africa.
The upper crusty Charles befriends Georges and invites him to a party where he meets Charles’ wife, Madeleine (Uma Thuman) as well as Clothilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci) and Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott-Thomas).
Madeleine later ghostwrites an article for Georges, which lands him a job at a French newspaper.
When Madeleine tells Georges that she will never be his lover, he turns his attention to Clothilde and an affair begins. Georges also gets a nickname from Clothilde’s young daughter, who calls him “bel ami” — “good friend.” The nickname becomes a tad ironic when Georges turns out to be a first-class cad.
There seems to be nothing he won’t do to feed his social-climbing, money-grubbing ambition.
Now you may wonder about Georges’ motivation. He explains later, but I wasn’t buying it. Either Pattinson’s acting didn’t convince me or the screenplay didn’t sell it well enough. I did want Georges to die a painful death so perhaps Pattinson was successful in that regard.
First-time directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod provide the film with plenty of atmosphere thanks to dazzling costumes and lavish settings.
Their narratives skills, however, could use some work as Georges’ amorous exploits start to lose their dramatic impact when subplots intrude. These include France’s imperialistic interests in Africa and the newspaper’s involvement in these political machinations. If you can keep all those things straight, congratulations.
You may also wonder why all these intelligent women fall for a man with no skills outside of the boudoir. Do all aristocratic women turn into whimpering schoolgirls when they meet an attractive man? I suppose if Pattinson exuded more sex appeal that might have helped. Madeleine’s extracurricular activities might also cause some head scratching.
Of all the stars in the film, the one who annoyed me the least was Ricci, who has made a career out of starring in odd films. This is one of her more mainstream efforts and she impresses with her Clothlilde feeling like a real character. I’ve liked Ricci ever since “The Addams Family” movies.
“Bel Ami” isn’t a bad film. It’s simply a film that could have been so much better — and one that I wished could have been better — because I believe Pattinson, with a top-notch director and strong script, might be able to prove he’s more than just a pretty face with fangs. Instead, what we have here is a second-rate “Dangerous Liaisons.”
FYI, de Maupassant’s novel has been filmed before, most notably in 1947 as “The Private Affairs of Bel Ami” starring George Sanders, who interestingly would later win an Oscar for his role in one of the best films ever made about the vicissitudes of blinding ambition, “All About Eve.” Mes amis, that is the film to watch.
“Bal Ami” is rated R for some strong sexuality, nudity and brief language. The film opens Friday.
“Bel Ami” (C+)