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Based on Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel, this tale of temptation and obsession chronicles Georges Duroy’s (Robert Pattinson) rise to power from his meager beginnings as a penniless ex-soldier by using the city’s most influential and wealthy women. Set in turn of the century Paris, Duroy seduces Madame de Marelle (Christina Ricci) then marries Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman), a former comrade's wife. Fueled by his insatiable quest and lustful greed, Duroy conquers Madame Walter (Kristen Scott Thomas), only to learn that every conquest is marred by betrayal and that true love eludes him.
A period drama based on Guy de Maupassant's classic novel of the same name, Bel Ami is a story about power, corruption, greed, and the seduction of influential women. Set in Paris in 1890, the film opens with the destitute Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) having just returned from war and desperate to scratch out a living. A chance encounter with fellow ex-soldier Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) offers Georges an introduction to high society, where he discovers that the wives (Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci) of some of the most prominent men in Paris hold the power to elevate Georges' social and political standing. Georges is a shrewd manipulator and seducer of women, and though he experiences betrayal and scorn at the hands of these powerful wives, his efforts yield meteoric social, political, and economic success. He never looks back at the women he's hurt or what might be missing in his personal life. The costuming in Bel Ami is stunning and effective, but great costuming is not the only necessary ingredient in a first-class period film. Pattinson never wins over the audience--he seems stony-faced and sullen much of the time, and he quite simply lacks the charisma the role requires. The audience is left puzzled as to why the women in the film are so attracted to Georges and why they can't see his ill intent. Ricci gives the most powerful performance as Clotilde, and Scott Thomas and Thurman also acquit themselves well, although key portions of dialogue with Thurman are very difficult to discern. Viewers will find themselves genuinely detesting most of the characters as well as the "moral" that by doing bad, man wins big--and that's just what the film's producers and author Maupassant likely intended. --Tami Horiuchi
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Robert Pattinson's turn as Georges DuRoy will have you loving and hating the man in equal measure, often careening from one to the other in the space of seconds. While, sadly, the book-to-film translation of all of DuRoy's nuances isn't quite fully realized due mostly to some rushing of material, Pattinson's portrayal of the sympathetic blackheart leaves you not knowing if you want to kiss him or shoot him. He moves effortlessly from moments of astonishing vulnerability to shere cold-hearted bastard status and right back again. He brings a sympathy for George's plight which I honestly felt was impossible after reading the novel.
Colm Meaney is the standout of the supporting cast, playing the calculating Rousset to perfection, making you hate the man even as he suffers his final defeat. The standout among Georges' leading ladies is absolutley Christina Ricci as the long-suffering Clothilde. She is simultaneously wide-eyed innocent and worldly temptress and gives reason to Georges' softer moments. Uma Thurman plays Mme Forrestier with a wit that is unexpected and has the pleasure of being the source of one of the most uncomfortably ironic moments of the film.
The film itself is a visual feast, with wonderful costumes and sets, each themselves giving you a second lense through which to view DuRoy's accension. The adaptation of the original novel could go deeper into examining the media influence on political climates. But, in choosing to focus more on DuRoy's tumultuous circumstances, it is the cast that carries the movie, especially Robert Pattinson. His portrayal of DuRoy is what makes this story direction work. A weaker actor could not have done that.