film review: Bel Ami (2012)


Bel Ami Or: The One Where Robert Pattinson Tries to Appeal to Women Over the Age of 30. Or at least I think that’s what he’s trying to doing, I’m not sure.

Bel Ami poster, Robert PattinsonI’m not sure what anyone was doing in Bel Ami to be honest. Look, I don’t want say this was a terrible movie. It’s not a terrible movie, let’s just say… you could do worse… but you could definitely do better.

It’s just such a shame. I’d like to see Pattinson make a decent movie. I mean, I thought the last two Twilight films were okay but I’d like to see him stretch a little. I think he’s capable. He might need a little work – if he could stop sneering for 20 seconds it would be brilliant – but I think there’s a good framework there for a proper acting career. Unfortunately for dear ol’ RPatz, this wasn’t the film to try and kickstart that career off.

The posters all proclaim that Bel Ami is the “Dangerous Liaisons for a new generation”. No, it’s not. I haven’t even seen Dangerous Liaisons but I saw the last “Dangerous Liaisons for a new generation” – Cruel Intentions – and Bel Ami ain’t no Cruel Intentions. It’s like a lite version of those films, a poor facsimile with none of the edge that makes the story in them so compelling.

The gist of the film is that Robert Pattinson is a young war veteran in the mid 1890s who sleeps his way to the top of Parisian society. That’s not a spoiler particularly and it’s really the quickest way to describe the film. It’s pretty simple. I don’t want to slag the concept of Bel Ami completely though, perhaps it’s a great book. It certainly seems a good basis for a story, it’s a classic rags to rich really, and simple can be good if it’s done well…

It’s not though. There’s many things wrong with it but the single biggest issue for me was that not one “character” in this film seemed actually motivated to do any particular thing. Stuff just happened to them. Given the setting you’d have expected there to have been a certain level of intrigue, a tension in the society. This is an outsider who’s supposedly working his way into high society, you’d expect… a wariness, or at least you’d expect him to have to charm his way in. When he starts… doing what he does… you’d expect consequences or at least that there be some rules to his behaviour, and the behaviour of the women. These are apparently powerful people he’s messing with, you’d expect some… power play…? Something? Anything?

… Nope. None. Zip. Nada. Stuff just happens. It seemed as though they felt they needed to hit certain plot points from the book and that would be enough for it to be a decent adaptation. Well, if they did, they were wrong.

Not one person in Bel Ami has any character. And certainly, there’s nothing sexy about the film. There’s no chemistry between Pattinson and any of the women. There’s no “thrill of the chase”, there’s no seduction. They’re all just going through motions. I didn’t care about any of these characters. Not that you could, there weren’t any in it but as the players in the story, I didn’t like any of them, I didn’t hate any of them. Which I should have, there’s should have been, perhaps a look at morality of what Pattinson’s “character” was doing… Nope. Nothing.

It’s this total lack of impetus from any of the characters that is the film’s undoing. Pattinson’s George Duroy swans around and money, woman and power just seem to fall into his lap… and he doesn’t care! The woman all seem to know what he’s up to… and they don’t care! The men don’t like him… but they don’t care to stop him! Somebody, do something! Do anything! Even cracking a smile about it would have been something… I mean, they’re all good looking people…

But still, I’m loath to say it’s a terrible movie. It’s not bad enough to be terrible. The performances are mostly fine, I don’t blame the film on any of them, that’s all on the directors and the screenplay writer. The film is actually fine… if you just want to watch stuff happen. It’s like a popcorn action flick, except it’s a period drama set in France. If you just want explosions (read: pretty dresses) and action heroes (read: good looking people) then it’s perfectly serviceable. Just don’t expect anything more.

Here’s hoping that David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis can be the career maker that Mr. Pattinson needs.



  1. comment-avatar
    AnneMay 14, 2012 - 12:35 am

    I read the book because of the trailer. I just watched it On demand – I agree – awful doesn’t begin to describe. My daughters didn’t understand anything (they hadn’t read the book) and I was more than disappointed. The best parts were shown in the trailer. What a waste of $10.00.

  2. comment-avatar
    KrisMay 24, 2012 - 8:05 am

    I read Bel-Ami during my junior year of high school (french school), and I absolutely loved it! It is perhaps my favorite book! So incredibly narrated that you feel transported to 19th century Paris! And the characters have such depths and charisma! I was really excited about the film, I really wanted to see this great story on the big screen.
    So, I saw it today, and I was truly disappointed!!!! The casting was cool, except for Robert Pattison (I pictured Georges DuRoy completely different!), the score was superb, and the filmmakers managed to capture the ambience of the book, but they did not do a good job telling the story! They rushed the story, getting rid of important details that would have made this an awesome adaptation. Also, Robert Pattison looks sick for most of the movie, which is weird given the fact that George DuRoy’s primary asset was his physical appearance!
    I really hated the movie! Not what I was expecting at all! If anyone is interested in the story, read the book, it is WAY better!

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