Movie Review: Bel Ami
Rating: R (nudity, brief language, strong sexuality)
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: February 23, 2012
Directed by: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Stars: 2 out of 5
In "Bel Ami," Robert Pattinson stars as Frenchman Georges Duroy, a former soldier who is all too aware of how low he is on the Paris social ladder. He has always yearned for something more, to be a part of the upper class. After fighting in Algeria, he returns to France determined to make this dream happen at any cost.
Georges develops a ruthless demeanor and begins to seduce a trio of women, each for a different reason. One of his conquests is Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman), who happens to be the wife of his boss. He gets a job at the La Vie Francaise newspaper because he knows Madeleine's husband, Charles (Philip Glenister), who happens to be the political editor. He first meets Madeleine through Charles and immediately sees a chance for advancement through her.
It turns out that Madeleine is quite the powerful writer. She has great insight and opinions about politics, but she is not free to express herself. The year is 1890, and women were not allowed to be writers. She and Georges begin a torrid affair that is mutually beneficial. She writes her articles and he turns them in with his name instead of hers, ensuring they will be published. She gets her word and political agenda published and he gets the recognition he so desperately wants.
In the meantime, Georges starts seducing the wife of the newspaper owner, Virginie Walters (Kristen Scott Thomas). At first, Virginie resists the advances of the caddish Georges, who won't take no for an answer. He believes Madeleine when she says that the most important people in Paris are the wives of the important men. Mr. Walters is the publisher of the newspaper, which makes him important and puts Virginie in Georges' crosshairs.
At some point, Virginie gives in to the seduction because she realizes that many other upper class Parisian women take lovers behind their husbands' backs. In fact, if the lover is younger and as good looking as Georges, it gives them something of a higher status among the wives. Like Georges, Virginie feels that societal rank is very important so she willingly begins the affair.
Finally, Georges sets his sights on the youngest of the three, Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci). Clotilde is an innocent woman with an absentee husband who is very rich. Georges knows if he can seduce her, she will shower him with gifts and money. She barely tries to resist his advances and they soon begin an affair in a small flat that Clotilde pays for. This hideout makes it even easier for them to see each other.
The fact that the film involves multiple seductions and is set in the 1800s means that "Bel Ami" will likely be compared to "Dangerous Liaisons." There are definitely some similarities between the two, but also some glaring differences. For example, Georges shows zero remorse for his actions, whereas in "Dangerous Liaisons" John Malkovich seems sorry for the damage he has done. Instead, Georges is ruthless and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goal of seducing his way to the top. He knows that beyond his skills in the army, he has little else to get ahead in life except his pretty face and wily charms.
Robert Pattinson takes a big risk in this role, because it is a major departure from "Twilight," the movie that made him famous. Uma Thurman is probably the best thing about the film. Her character is one that the audience longs to see more of because her intelligence and determination are so rare for a female in a period piece.
First-time screenwriter Rachel Bennette adapted the story from the Guy de Maupassant novel, published in 1885. The two directors are also first-time directors, meaning that both the writing and direction were from freshman filmmakers. Such an ambitious and complicated tale of seduction and betrayal could have easily been botched by first-timers.
Though "Bel Ami" can be a bit uneven in some spots, overall it is a good adaptation of de Maupassant. The entire film is well paced, and when Georges' machinations begin to unravel in the third act, it really takes off into high gear. The audience will appreciate the suspense as they wait to see if Georges gets away with his bad behavior or gets his delicious comeuppance.