Bel Ami (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
9Aug/120

Bel Ami (2012)

Much like his similarly positioned counterpart Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Pattinson is slowly trying to shed his image from a successful fantasy franchises while establishing himself as a new star.  I'm not sure the conniving, lascivious, aggressive role he plucked from the screenplay to Bel Ami is the best start for this.  He's gone from a character that detractors consider to be a sexual predator to a character who is less a sexual predator so much as an opportunist, but gives the impression of one designed to do sexual harm.

I am sad that my mind drifted to these kinds of thoughts while watching the movie.  Unforunately, Bel Ami connected with me more through what its participants might be hoping to accomplish outside its celluloid frame rather than what is being presented.  As it stands the movie is a by the numbers period piece rich with costuming and smoke but lacking in any real creative connection to the source material, a novel written by the French author Guy de Maupassant.

Whether the text is faithfully recreated here, for better or not, I cannot say.  But I can relay that I was bored throughout most of the run-time of Bel Ami.  Despite all the cleavage enhancing bodices on display and a frequent return to Pattinson's naked ass the film felt as dry toward sex as a documentary by a conservative relative.  This is sort of the point, given Bel Ami's political subtext, but it is so poorly conveyed through the narrative that what little intrigue exists is generated through two powerful scenes driven by the great Colm Meaney.  Sadly, those are roughly half his scenes, so trudge I must through the remaining film.

 

Visual foreshadowing 101, he will see different parts of himself in each of the mistresses he takes.

Without mincing too many words, Bel Ami tells the story of a man determined to sleep his way to the top of the aristocratic chain.  Georges Duroy (Pattinson) was recently dismissed as an officer of the French army and, without any real talent outside his body, takes to seducing the local aristocratic body.  Conveniently enough, all the women that he needs to seduce are in one social circle.  There's the more outwardly sexual Clotilde (Christina Ricci), the more reserved and aristocratic Madeleine (Uma Thurman), and the mousy Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas).  Through various affairs and backroom thumpings Duroy manages to secure a place of power until the threat of war rears back and may possibly destroy his bubble.

Despite the political backdrop and obviously steamy undercurrent, Bel Ami does very little with either.  Neither through the visuals nor the exposition does it explain why or how Duroy is able to attain the kind of political capital he does.  The clunkiest bits of the movie are when it tries to sidestep this issue, especially when seemingly unrelated plot threads (like Duroy's time in, and subsequent firing from, a newspaper) are hurriedly tossed onscreen to provide some kind tension for Duroy to push against.  Since these threads are quickly tossed aside with a thrust in the right direction from Duroy it would have better served to tie the narrative into his romantic shenanigans and rid the plot of those political points.

While that political narrative is a bust the rest of the film rejects the sex nearly to the point of anti-steam.  While it was nice to see the brunt of the sexuality carried on Pattinson's naked rump they were presented in such a flat way that it seemed directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod would have been happy to be rid of them altogether.  They're seen as dalliances in nondescript rooms with a few happy thrusts and then that's that.  Even the more passionate exchanges, especially one where some BDSM would not have been out of line, are so colorless and stale that they fight for a reason to exist.  Even the historical trappings are dull as nothing is done to try and recreate the era, just a boring costume play version of it.

On the surface it would appear Duroy is wallowing in her misery, but don't make the mistake in thinking that charge is present. I can assure you, it's not.

The saving grace lies in most of the performances.  First I must praise the always great Colm Meaney.  In two scenes of considerable restraint and rage he shows how much more interesting the film could have been if it was a reaction to Duroy instead of presenting the world in his eyes.  This is similarly reflected through the performances of the various mistresses Duroy takes.  Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas are great, but Christina Ricci is the real standout.  She creates a space for herself that is unwilling to fault the sexual and political game for what it is, approaching each dalliance as an opportunity for personal or professional pleasure.

However the star, Robert Pattinson, does not come off as well as his supporting cast.  Pattinson creates someone so thoroughly unlikeable in Bel Ami that it's unlikely people are going to be starting chants of "Team Duroy!" anytime soon.  It's not a risky performance so much as it is a deliberately off-putting one.  He channels and prominently displays the same kind of angst that he is trying to get away from, resulting in a confusing torrent of crying and yelling amidst all the sexual fun he claims he's having.  In the end he's just not cold enough to be the kind of political mastermind the plot wants him to be, nor the sexual wunderkind he is praised as.

Had Bel Ami picked one direction to go in I'd be typing one of two different reviews.  Either I could have marveled at how the sexual politics of an age were presented without embellishment.  Instead I have to watch boring politics and even more boring sex.  That is something I cannot abide.

Bel Ami (2012)
Directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod.
Screenplay written by Rachel Bennette.
Starring Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, and Uma Thurman.

Posted by Andrew

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