Bel Ami
dir Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod
scr Rachel Bennette
prd Uberto Pasolini
with Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colm Meaney, Philip Glenister, Holliday Grainger, James Lance, Natalia Tena, Pip Torrens, Anthony Higgins, Thomas Arnold
release UK 9.Mar.12, US 8.Jun.12
12/UK Rai 1h42
Bel Ami
He won't bite: Pattinson and Scott Thomas

thurman ricci meaney
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Bel Ami Guy de Maupassant's 1885 novel was first adapted for the cinema in 1919, and yet the story has some intriguing parallels with European society today. On the other hand, this adaptation never finds its tone, and it doesn't give us a single character to care about.

In 1890 Paris, penniless charmer Georges (Pattinson) has a chance encounter with former comrade Charles (Glenister), who offers him a job as a journalist. Unable to string a sentence together, Charles' wife Madeleine (Thurman) offers to help, but refuses his relentless flirting. Instead he starts a torrid affair with married family friend Clotilde (Ricci). But a taste of the high life goes to his head, and when Charles dies, he makes a move for Madeleine. Or maybe he can get more out of Virginie (Scott Thomas), wife of the newspaper boss (Meaney).

The central question is whether Georges is manipulating people for his own gain, or whether everyone else is actually using him. So the story is a political thriller (a scandal that could topple the government), romantic melodrama (he yearns for each woman in very different ways) and bedroom farce, all at the same time. Yet the more we get to know Georges the more we despise him: not only is he selfish and cruel, but he's also seriously dim. And even though Pattinson gives his spiciest performance yet (which isn't saying much), we never root for him.

Meanwhile, the actresses make the most of their one-sided roles. Thurman oozes confidence as an intelligent woman who refuses to submit to a man's world. Ricci is sweet as the doe-eyed lover who hasn't a clue what's really going on around her. Scott Thomas is hilarious as the repressed woman who becomes rather unhinged when Georges loosens her corset. Meaney, Glenister and Lance (as a politician) glower nastily through every scene, clearly plotting something villainous.

But all of this gloomy intrigue weighs the film down, never becoming clear enough to engage our interest and distracting us from the much more entertaining romantic chaos. At least the filmmakers have some fun in the bed-hopping scenes, letting the actors add lusty subtext to every glance. If only this light touch had extended through the entire film.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, some violence 4.Jan.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall