REVIEW: Bloodless Bel Ami Wastes Robert Pattinson's Perfectly Intriguing Face

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Bel Ami Robert Pattinson

Though he plays one of the great roués of literature – the social climbing, bloomer-dropping hero at the center of Guy de Maupassant’s 1895 novel – the focus on Robert Pattinson in Bel Ami is notably above the belt. This is certainly true in the literal sense, where first-time directing team Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod lavish attention on Pattinson’s extraordinary face, even get a little lost in it at times. But it also feels like the source of a larger lack – that of the libidinous physicality and charismatic breadth of a well-rounded scoundrel.

Like Madonna’s recent W.E., the look of Bel Ami is polished to a fine, if somewhat compensatory gloss. Even the prostitutes in the Parisian bar where Georges Duroy (Pattinson) washes up after his stint fighting on the Algerian front are styled like Moulin Rouge extras. A run-in with his former superior (and current newspaper man) Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) at that bar yields the penniless Georges an invitation to a most fortuitous dinner. Donnellan and Ormerod, both veterans of the UK theater, give some cheek to the scene that follows, in which the beauteous Georges makes his social debut, and his future conquests are introduced only to align like a three-pineapple jackpot.

George can’t believe his luck, and neither can we: Forestier’s formidable wife Madeleine is played by Uma Thurman; the wife of newspaper owner Rousset (Colm Meaney) is played by Kristin Scott Thomas; and the group’s pet, a lonely society wife named Clotilde, is played by Christina Ricci. Pattinson’s lips seem to visibly redden as the women take their bows, but the hope of watching him unleash a few eternities of Edwardian frustration in a highbrow bodice-ripper begins to dissipate as Georges proves to be more a man of reaction than action. When Madeleine proposes a newspaper column for Georges at dinner, he looks on with a smirk; when she writes the inaugural column for him during their first meeting à deux, informing him besides of her total disinterest in being his mistress, the camera lingers on a similar expression. Whatever feeling or calculation lies behind it is certainly well disguised, and the gap between Pattinson’s plentiful reaction shots and their meaning only widens as the film goes on.

The women take to Georges immediately, though his knack appears to be less for insinuation than good timing. Clotilde is in the market for a lover, and lets a sumptuous apartment for their trysts. Meanwhile Georges's ghostwritten column is a success, though the men see him as an empty waistcoat and Forestier in particular treats him with disgust. When his new position is jeopardized and Georges has to start scheming in earnest, his moves are sudden and poorly integrated. The hand-delivery of a basket of pears to Mme. Rousset seems to restore his job, and the idea that Georges is driven by a determination to abandon his peasant roots is most convincing when he spells it out for Clotilde. Characterization feels like an afterthought, and is only tended to when it becomes a necessity of the plot.

And yet on the whole Bel Ami is highly watchable. As is often the case in costume pictures especially, the degree to which different characters are convincingly of the world of the film varies. Thomas, for instance, is at once tragically and comically lovely as the good, religious wife seduced out of her right mind. She can telegraph that world in a glance and a few words. Thurman has a tougher time with Madeleine; although she makes a shattering indictment of Georges near the end, her character in particular – the ambitious political player stymied by her sex – demonstrates an endemic problem with the script (by Rachel Bennette) and the direction: The best performances seem to inhabit a story that the filmmaking doesn’t bear out. Executive-produced by Simon Fuller (the American Idol creator is described in the press notes as being in the business of “world-class entertainment properties and icons”), at times Bel Ami feels like someone made an elaborate pretense of convincing both Pattinson and the audience that there’s more to the film than his pretty face.

But what a face: Classically handsome one moment, darkly sensual the next, then almost grotesque in the wrong light, then back to boyish and unsullied. I haven’t seen David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis yet, but if there is one director who might get a handle on that face and put its chameleon planes to proper use, it might be him. Although his face is his fortune in Bel Ami, Pattinson feels ill used, his raw talents still waiting for not just the right role but the right director. In that way, one of the most welcome of the film’s twists – watching a young man engage in the Victorian bloodsport of making a good marriage – has a separate resonance. Something tells me a more perfect concord awaits.

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  • Megan says:

    By Pattinson's "intriguing" face, do you actually mean "gross?"

    Sorry, I don't have anything intelligent to post here otherwise.

    • Natalie says:

      Rob doesn't have a "gross" face. He is very good-looking and is getting better as an actor all the time. He deservedly got excellent reviews for Cosmopolis, even from critics who didn't like the film.
      If you don't have anything intelligent to post, then don't post at all. You seem to have a "gross" personality.

    • Mi says:

      So,don't post.I'm sure your boyfriend has a beautiful face.

  • Thought movie was easier to follow since I had read the book years ago. All the sexual scenes were tastefully done. Good acting by all.enjoyable film. Its a shame it won't receive a wide release in all areas of the country.

  • Elaine parkinson says:

    OMG.....why do people have to get so nasty and personal ...Rob is a really lovely and nice young guy I have seen him lots of times and he is so gracious and lovely with his fans ...Always happy and smiling and gives so much of himself to others ...I think it says so much more about the person who says horrid things about someone who they know absolutely nothing about......Some people are just mean and nasty and great intelligence really isnt need for that !!!!!!!

    • Megan says:

      Hey I'm not suggesting anything as to Pattinson's character, I just think he's unattractive. And not a particularly compelling actor, either.

    • Natalie says:

      What can you say about a poster who admits she doesn't have anything intelligent to post, but posts all the same? She has not seen the movie. I have seen it a few months ago, and I have also seen Cosmopolis twice as it's been released in my country.

  • Brieftaube says:

    I must say this: I left the theater after twenty minutes, and I hardly ever do that. The acting was so contrived and bad, the grimaces Pattinson pulled to look "sexy" were so painful to watch, and I hated Christina Ricci so much that it almost drowned out Scott-Thomas' incredible unpleasant character, that I just couldn't stand it. Uma Thurman is alway interesting to look at - but the movie looked like a stage play in the first round of rehearsals. Each of the actors involved I truly liked in other movies, and I do think Pattinson looks great, but they way those people acted together was - disgusting. There was no romance in the romantics, not viciousness in the vicious, no sex in the sexy ... it was all cold and poorly written or shot. I was releaved to have left, and I felt that losing money in this case bothered me less than suffering through more of that disaster would have.

    • Clover says:

      That was a stupid move. What if the movie got better? I watched Men In Black last week, the first half of the movie was terrible, but the second half was great. You wasted your money and screwed yourself a movie that COULD have been your favorite. Don't comment if you haven't seen the whole movie.

  • Jessica says:

    Pattison is likeable and watchable even when the character he is playing is horrible. I suppose one could find him unattractive but I am not sure of how one goes about that.

    I wish the movie's narrative had made more sense and better explained the milieu/culture of the period. The characters' did not always make sense to a modern viewer. A few strong scenes do stand out sharply and clearly but too much of it was muddled or inexplicable.

  • Juliet says:

    I actually really like this movie , so scandelous ! Although I did have to think about it for a while , the way that it was portrayed in my opinion, is marvelous ! Props to Rob and the Director .

  • jai says:

    Lovely film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did not read the book and found myself going back to certain parts to fully understand the a good way. I could not believe he was playing such a cold, calculating character. I guess I was too used to him as Edward Cullen. It was refreshing to see him in another role as I do enjoy him as an actor. He has the ability to play different types of roles and that's why I like him and will continue to watch his other movies. I can't wait to see Cosmopolis, As for his "visage" - physically he was perfect for the role. His smile has a boyish charm, yet his features are chiseled and manly. Not at all gross...pleasant and obviously women of different ages can find his look attractive. I'd watch this again.

  • heidi edwardson says:

    Rob pattinson is a disgusting hack! He had one lame movie which 12 yr olds everywhere loved but anyone with a distinguished sense of a true criterium of movie prodgeny would know the movie was disgusting! Terrible terrible terrible to say the least! I am sincerely wondering how a brad pitt generic knock off won over any type of following! I vommited 3 times before I even hit play on bel ami! Which is significantly less to the amount of times I vommited before my friend hit play on twilight "which the standing count on that is 6"! I dispise anything that this movie entreats and I loathe anyone who entertains that this is an actual good movie! Would anyone like to boycott this movie with me just let me know and we will send a message to the producers!

  • alex dorsey says:

    I would like to stand up for my favorite actor of all time rob he is phenomenal.not only is he extremely handsome with a tight little ass he showed the world what he was capable of in the epic movie twilight.I am appauled that anyone would dare say anything otherwise.I'm straight but for rub I would turn homo in a new york minute just saying______

  • Paula Reynolds says:

    I think Robert pattinson is fantastic and a superb actor id loved to meet the Guy and give him a huge hug! He is sexy and has a fine backside too!

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