Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart’s partner in life and Twilight, has also had a difficult time breaking free of his vampire roots (see Remember Me and Water for Elephants). Unfortunately, Bel Ami, an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel of social ambition, bathes him in a dark romanticism that evokes Edward Cullen. As Georges Duroy, a former cavalry officer in Algeria now eager to lead the good life in belle-epoque Paris, Pattinson gives the role a beauty eaten away by greed.
The film begins promisingly enough with the bedraggled Georges looking longingly through the windows of a chic Paris restaurant where the rich conspicuously enjoy their privileges. It’s connect-the-dots screenwriting from Rachel Bennette that reduces his chances to build the character into something substantial, as Georges realizes his only talent might be seduction. Directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, whose theater work with the Cheek by Jowl company they founded is marked by a distinction absent here, structure their film around lock-step encounters between Georges and the women who warm his bed and make his fortune.
Uma Thurman plays Madeleine, the wife of his former army buddy Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), the political editor of the newspaper La Vie Française. Thanks to Madeleine, Georges gets a job at the paper and deludes himself that he has talent. When the light dawns, Georges amuses himself with the married Clotilde (a vibrant Christina Ricci), and then with the prim Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of the paper’s editor (Colm Meaney). With that cast, we rightfully expect fireworks. What we get is the film equivalent of a wet blanket.