Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
June 21, 2012
*1/2 (out of four)
In “Midnight in Paris,” Adriana (Marion Cotillard) longs for an earlier era, unfulfilled by 1920s Paris. If she saw the city in 1890 as presented in “Bel Ami,” she might stop dreaming of the past.
Based on Guy de Maupassant’s 1895 novel but adapted by a first-time feature writer and directors, “Bel Ami” amateurishly presents the period’s gender roles and apparently rampant infidelity without any clarity to the relationships themselves. Social climber Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) doesn’t trust his politically motivated wife, Madeleine (Uma Thurman), whom he married as soon as possible after the death of his old war colleague Charles (Philip Glenister).
So what? A friend should just tell Georges that he never knew her in the first place and was seemingly blinded by her cleavage and willingness to do his job for him. (Madeleine writes content for Georges’ “Diary of a Cavalry Officer” newspaper series, since he writes, as Charles says, like “an errand boy.”) But Georges has no friends because he’s a stupid, impulsive liar. So who does this punk think he is, and who cares what happens to him?
Perhaps on the page “Bel Ami” plays like a spite-driven tragedy in which one man’s greed and good looks shatter the lives of everyone he meets. Rather than some blending of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Shattered Glass,” though, the movie becomes a terrible bore, politically detached and faux-classy without distinction.
In the “Twilight” franchise, Pattinson mildly skates by because on his worst day he still exceeds his co-star Taylor Lautner’s best days. Pattinson’s way out of his depth in “Bel Ami,” devoid of the charisma that might indicate how he charms a revolving door of women (including Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas). Pattinson just stands there as if he’s thinking, “I’m sorry if this isn’t enough for you, but I only have two faces I can make.”
As a result, Georges just seems like a petty, insecure shadeball who, as he pursues women who are related either by blood or close friendship, clearly has no regard for the awkwardness sure to ensue at gatherings around the holidays.
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