Bel Ami Review: Penis Mightier Than The Sword

March 6, 2012 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

stars-2half
BEL AMI (15): On General Release Friday 9th March

Disappointingly, it’s not the biography of everyone’s favourite bearded botanist or the story of Teignmouth’s favourite son, but Robert Pattinson’s new anti-morality tale set in the hedonistic heights of late 19th century Paris. But while it boasts an all-star cast and some lavish costume design, it, like its protagonist, is vapid, shallow and ultimately with little to recommend it.

Pattinson plays George Duroy, an impoverished and near illiterate ex-soldier who is taken under the wing of a former comrade Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) who happens to be the political editor of a fashionable Parisian magazine.

Handed a job writing a “the diary of a cavalryman” despite having no writing ability, he’s fortunate to make the acquaintance of Forestier’s wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman), who not only writes his column for him but also shares a nugget of wisdom – that if he really wants to get ahead, he’s better off currying favour with powerful men’s wives than the men themselves.

Taking that advice to heart, Duroy begins to seduce the women of Paris using his charm and good looks as a substitute for talent (of which he has none) and slowly begins his climb up the social ladder.

Pattinson fits the bill perfectly – he’s a good looking man who’s been honing his brooding skills to a fine art since 2008’s Twilight. But with very little dialogue, he’s mostly relegated to scowling while women unaccountably throw themselves at him. Very rarely do we get a sense that he’s a cunning schemer and he comes across as more a lucky fool who has good things perpetually thrust upon him.

Consequently, Duroy isn’t a compelling character. He’s unlikeable not because his actions are reprehensible (in fact anti-heroes can make the most engaging protagonists) but because he does nothing to deserve his good fortune. He has none of the cunning nous or delicious Machiavellian manipulation of John Malkovlch’s Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons – still the pinnacle of French-penned social deviousness.

The greatest pleasure is his on-off relationship with Clothilde (Ricci), which comes closest to probing the depths that lie beneath his vacant eyes. But Bel Ami is oddly passionless for a film which hinges on bedroom antics as much as it does – there’s no spark of feeling at all between Madeleine or the older desperate Madame Rousette (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Bel Ami is curiously probably more relevant today than it was when it was penned – after all, in this age more than in any other, it’s easy to get ahead with good looks and little talent. However, even a stellar cast can’t lift a story which is as soulless and as empty as its protagonist.

Follow Jez Sands on Twitter.

StumbleUpon It!

Comments

  1. @fearlessmore says:

    So tired of this kind of vitriolic review lacking in objectivity and professionality and full of prejudice. First of all you confuse Valmont with Duroy…Maupassant’s Duroy is a bush-league man, too cautious to be really vicious, too mean to hate and too ambitious to love…he doesn’t want dramas around him, dramas are uncomfortable.There’s no pity in Maupassant, no sympathy or redemption for his characters…Duroy hasn’t been created to be liked and if you write the protagonist is soulless and empty, Robert Pattinson made his work….

  2. admin says:

    That was my point. I don’t think a protagonist needs to be likeable, merely interesting. And Duroy isn’t.

  3. interesting says:

    “I don’t think a protagonist needs to be likeable, merely interesting. And Duroy isn’t.”
    Duroy was empty, soulless and shallow character in the book. There was nothing interesting about him and I couldn’t stop wondering when his luck is going to end. It looks like the film succeeded in this regard.

  4. KS says:

    2 @fearlessmore and interesting
    ITA
    So sadly that some critics don’t know a source

  5. jen says:

    Film critics are said to be afraid of breaking the clique, hence their articles tend to become very subjective and very boring. Like sleeping with an old, bald, spotty, and pouchy man in his late fifties:P Is this all about Edward Cullen?

  6. Claire says:

    @jen – The point of film reviews is to to be subjective as it involves expressing opinion. I’m sure you know what an opinion is as you seem to have so many. :)