Robert Pattinson has had it rough breaking out of the Twilight mode, and crap like Remember Me and Little Ashes doesn't help. Sadly, neither does Bel Ami, an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's hot-blooded 1885 novel of social ambition. Pattinson is awash in the dark romanticism that isn't all that different from his iconic Edward Cullen character. He plays George Duroy, a former cavalry officer in Algeria set on living the high life in Paris. Pattinson does his utmost best to invest the role with a bruised beauty and integrity eaten away at by greed, but the film does him no favors.
Things begin promisingly with a bedraggled and disheveled George looking through the windows of a Paris restaurant, watching the rich enjoy their privileges. Despite Pattinson's talents, the script from Rachel Bennette is mostly devoid of real substance, it's all sweeping generalizations that are easily connected, especially when the script makes it painfully obvious George's only talent is seduction. Directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, who both have roots in the theatre, give the film a frustrating structure that only plays into encounters between George and various women that come off vapidly.
Enter Uma Thurman as Madeleine, wife of George's former army pal Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), and political editor of La Vie Francaise. Because of Madeleine, George welcomes a job with the paper and so deludes himself that he is talented. And in between beds the married Clotilde (Christina Ricci, the most vibrant thing in the movie) and Virginie (Kristen Scott Thomas), wife of the paper's editor (Colm Meaney). A terrific cast that goes down in flames. Bel Ami should have been electrifying and palpably erotic. Instead it just lands with a thud. Here's hoping Pattinson's turn in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis is far more cheer-worthy.