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Robert Pattinson has the stardom. He's got the looks. But he hasn't got the looks suited for the character of Georges Duroy. He can portray pain well but each time there is a scene where he has to augment his emotional range, he chokes. His demeanor shows a sense of awareness, sort of reminding himself that heres another scene to prove he can act. He looks uncomfortable in another characters skin, unless the skin is pale and glitters. This consciousness is apparent here more than in movies like Remember Me (2010) and Water for Elephants (2011). Albeit, he is getting out of the stereotype and flapping his feet in the water and he will soon find his pond to swim.
There are good moments but they aren't due to the filmmaking competence but more because of the source material. Bel Ami, is based on a novel by Guy de Maupassant, set in 1890, which I haven't the pleasure of reading but Im aware of his style and craft through the several short stories of his I have ploughed through. It tells the story of a social climber who breeds a materialistic lust for attaining maximum wealth and power. His ignominy seeps through the Parisian society as he beds various women who can satisfy and nurture this corruption.
The women concerned are the wives of powerful men: Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci), Madeliene Forestier (Uma Thurman) and Virginie Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas). There are two more women, a whore who he leaves behind when he starts his ascension and a girl he marries at the end that confirms his victory. Kristin Scott Thomas' experience speaks fluently. One scene where Uma Thurman grieves for the man she loves, she instantly steals the show. Sadly, she doesn't maintain the rhythm in other parts of the film. But the real winner is Christina Ricci. She reminded me why I had a childhood crush on her during my obsession with the movie, Casper (1995). After losing her mojo post Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Monster (2003), she could regain it if she continues treading these waters and picks her films better.
A major complaint I have is that the film doesn't feel French at all. There are movies which have European characters speaking in English but it doesn't strike you as odd. Dangerous Liaisons (1988) is a good example, for which Glenn Close was criminally robbed of an Oscar. Hell, even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) set in Sweden, doesn't seem dissonant. When a filmmaker is in control, we give in easier.
These characters are surely despicable and their actions abhorrent. This doesn't grant you a buffer for not making the characters come alive in all their manipulative disgust and glory. The narrative also keeps us at an arm's distance, neither giving us a subjective view or a vantage point where we can relate to or judge these characters. We obviously can't expect Jean Renoir or Max Ophuls to make this film for us. I'd suggest you to pick up any film from these filmmakers or watch Dangerous Liaisons instead to understand the level of cinematic brilliance that can be achieved in a similar filmmaking sector.