Movie Review: Bel Ami
Rating: R (strong sexuality, nudity, and brief language)
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2012 (USA - limited release)
Directed by: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Stars: 3 out of 5
There aren't enough great things that can be said about the talent of the actors with starring and supporting roles in "Bel Ami." Many of them have achieved great acclaim and notoriety in past projects. This, of course, brings some pretty high expectations into the theaters. Robert Pattinson, in case you've been living under a rock for the past few years, is a big hit with ladies over the age of 13 in the USA and abroad. He brings genuine appeal to the role and seems a prime candidate to play George Duroy- a man who uses his charm and sizzle to romance his way into the upper echelon of Parisian society despite being destitute. It's a role he plays very well-surprisingly well in the eyes of many of his former critics.
"Bel Ami" explores the dysfunctional nature of French society-particularly among its top tier-but also in its lower levels. It highlights the desperation of a man bent on escaping poverty and achieving success-at any cost. More importantly, "Bel Ami" explores just what the price for that success and financial security may be on the person achieving it. There are many points in the movie where Duroy struggles with the things he's doing and what kind of man he's becoming.
Duroy is a different type of character from those typically associated with Pattinson's work in that he's a bit of a rake. In fact, the book "Bel Ami," which the movie was based on, was subtitled: "The History of a Scoundrel." Duroy is a poor army vet who wants desperately to improve his station in life. He finds an entrance into the society he wants to be part of by manipulating the wives of powerful men-the true power brokers in French society at the time.
There are quite a few unexpected parallels to modern times in the film. There is a great focus on the obsession people have for celebrity, notoriety and power. Then, there is the war between the media and the political class to explore.
Unfortunately, the film is too short to adequately explore all the conflicts it brings to light. The real relationship "Bel Ami" explores is the one Duroy has with himself. It's interesting to watch the character's "fall from grace" as the movie progresses.
The wives are played brilliantly by Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Christina Ricci. Each wife has her own reason for falling into love and bed with Duroy who leaves them all feeling a little taken advantage of as a result. In many ways, the movie plays like a modern-day melodrama. The story is interesting, and Pattinson is a surprisingly sympathetic Georges Duroy.
Fans of the book are likely to find the film a little rushed in comparison to the book. That's quite understandable since it takes 400 pages of character development and condenses it into a movie that is less than two hours long. The main criticism is that the film doesn't make Duroy as detestable as he should be. It's quite possible that Pattinson's talent for the role is partly responsible for the sympathetic nature of an otherwise despicable character. He paints Georges Duroy as a seriously flawed man trying desperately to escape the promise of poverty that haunts him.
The supporting cast members of "Bel Ami" definitely make their mark on the movie and in the minds of the audience. Uma Thurman's character, Madeleine Forestier, has forward-thinking ways that leave her a little ahead of the other women in the movie. Christina Ricci's character, Clotilde de Marelle, is a fun diversion from an otherwise dark and heavy movie, though she has a few dark moments of her own. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Virginie Walters wonderfully, as a woman making one last attempt to embrace passion in her life-even if only briefly.
Each conquest represents the loss of even more of Duroy's humanity. By the end of the film, he's less of a man than he was when he had nothing but considers the loss a worthy sacrifice. The sacrifice brings him the confidence that he'll never be forced to experience poverty again.
All in all, the movie is brilliantly acted and directed. The scenery is stunning, and the story is compelling, despite the fact that it feels a little rushed. "Bel Ami" is definitely a movie worth watching for anyone who appreciates a solid drama with excellent acting.