Based on a 1885 French novel of the same name by Guy de Maupassant, Bel Ami is a film directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. It follows Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) a poor ex-soldier who is introduced to Parisian society in the late 19th Century. Once established he begins to seduce the wives of high-profile people, notably Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci), Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman) and Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas) in hopes to maintain the comfortable lifestyle to which he has become accustom.
Bel Ami plays like the younger, sexier version of Dangerous Liaisons, sadly the pacing is much slower and the cast less enthralling. Pattinson certainly looks the part, with his Twilight-trained brooding eyes in full force. His character is a sort of Gatsby/Dorian Grey type, with youthful good looks, charm and sex appeal but who is manipulative and harbouring a dark secret. Pattinson struggles to control this level of character depth and ends up looking slightly confused throughout. Bel Ami’s three central female performances are as solid as you’d expect from Thurman, Thomas and Ricci and the supporting cast including Colm Meaney also provide much needed strength of character.
The real problem with Bel Ami though is the unbareably slow pace. Period dramas such as this rely upon a lot of subtext in the performances as well as enough action to drive the narrative forward. Bel Ami lacks these and quickly becomes a chore to watch, with no characters to completely engage with or root for and what is the point of a film populated entirely with villains.
Bel Ami drifts along, unsure of what it’s trying to say and inevitably loses its way and begins to drag very quickly. It then becomes a very obvious vehicle to firmly establish Pattinson’s heartthrob status by having a selection of beautiful older actress’ coo and fawn over him. As such, a central story arc about amoral, vacuous characters beautifully sums up Bel Ami as whole: Good to look at, but lacking heart.