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Berlin Review: 'Bel Ami' Stars Rob Pattinson as Sexy Seducer

by David Gritten
February 16, 2012 8:54 PM
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Uma Thurman and Robert Pattinson "Bel Ami"
Uma Thurman and Robert Pattinson "Bel Ami"

It makes perfect sense that Rob Pattinson would continue his attempts to broaden his fan base as the "Twilight" franchise nears its end. Starring in a new film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel "Bel Ami" certainly advances that project: Playing Georges Duroy, an unscrupulous ex-soldier who makes his way up the ladder of Parisian high society by seducing the wives of powerful men, adds a few strings to his bow. (Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group is putting the film out through Magnolia.)

Duroy is unscrupulous, self-absorbed and nakedly ambitious, but has enough sexual magnetism to further his career by talking his way into some of the city’s most opulent bedrooms. Pattinson is thus involved in screen liaisons with actresses old enough to be mothers to "Twilight"’s core audience. It’s a leap of sorts, and not without its risks.

For all that, it’s hard not to wish "Bel Ami" was more engaging. Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod are making their debuts as feature film directors after long, stellar careers with the acclaimed theatre company Cheek by Jowl. Their stage background is sometimes apparent: "Bel Ami" (shot in Budapest, standing in for Paris) may well be a story that mostly takes place indoors, but on screen it often feels cramped and claustrophobic.

The topical relevance of "Bel Ami" cannot be overstated. Duroy, returned to France after serving with the French army in Algeria, is a figure who rises in society without actually achieving very much – not a million miles from so many of today’s celebrities. He uses a career in journalism as his ticket to the top, but is barely capable of writing a coherent sentence. Yet he sees that fame can equate with power and influence. It’s all very 21st century.

So is a subplot about political corruption and hypocrisy, and the role journalism can play in bringing down politicians, and even governments. In Britain especially, where hacking scandals have closed down a national newspaper and fraudulent expenses claims by members of Parliament have dominated headlines in recent years, this is resonant material. Yet somehow it never quite meshes with the main narrative: Duroy’s growing influence, and the women he seduces to make it happen.

Fortunately the three actresses in question acquit themselves well. Uma Thurman, the wife of an influential political editor, is a knowing, empathetic character who endorses Duroy’s ambitions, and even writes his piece detailing his memories as a young soldier.  Kristin Scott Thomas is the initially frosty wife of a newspaper boss – and few do frosty better than Scott Thomas. But she becomes infatuated by Duroy and reduced to begging him not to end their affair.

Best of all is Christina Ricci as Clothilde, an amiable, charming society woman who Duroy swiftly seduces. Ricci’s career has fluctuated since her film successes in her childhood and adolescence, but here she is more of a vivacious, effective screen presence than she’s been in years.

But Pattinson himself is a problem as Duroy. He displays the character’s ruthlessness adequately and his wolfish smile is a useful weapon in his regard. But he seems ill-at-ease in terms of playing a period role. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, but he looks very much a contemporary young man in a historical context; his body language is too casual and informal for the social circles in which Duroy makes his moves.  (The thought occurs that his next role, playing a young Manhattan money-market tycoon in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don deLillo’s "Cosmopolis," should suit Pattinson down to the ground.)

As for "Bel Ami," the R-Patz fan community may well investigate it out of curiosity – and it certainly shows their idol in more explicit situations than they’ve seen before. But it’s unlikely to appeal greatly to them; in truth, it’s skewed to older audiences, who may appreciate the themes underlying de Maupassant’s story without them being explicitly spelled out.


  • Amelie | February 28, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    I believe the issue at hand is a poor script and inexperienced directors. Rewrites and reshoots could/should have been done, according to the negative reviews stating that the movie is choppy
    from scene to scene, and the actors' did not "own" their parts. It sounds like on-hands direction and communicating the vision for the actors may have been lacking. Rob Pattinson was great in Water for Elephants, and Remember Me. As an actor, Mr. Pattinson will have hits and misses, and will get better with time. It is just a shame that in this "internet" based world, actors are judged too quickly and harshly, with the whole world watching. Movies are a collaborative effort from many, many people and areas. The actors' involved are not responsible for every aspect. I have learned to ignore a lot of critics' comments (over the years), and will certainly see Bel Ami to make up my own mind. Rob Pattinson is a young man willing to take chances and he should be commended for it. I believe he is already a beloved man, a good actor, and deservces constructive criticism. How many actors have had hit after hit? Maybe George Clooney, Gary Oldman, Ryan Gosling. They received critical acclaim but their films did not always make a lot of money. Sean Penn is an actor's actor, and he had some flops, too.

  • Caroussel | February 18, 2012 4:28 AMReply

    "his body language is too casual and informal for the social circles in which Duroy makes his moves"
    Isn't that the whole crux of the movie? Duroy does not belong in the high society which he aspires to. He is a fake and he seduces his way in and up.
    If Pattinson's acting shows that, he has done his job.

  • tanker | February 17, 2012 6:52 PMReply

    Everyone that constantly proclaims Rob and Kristen can't act are missing a very important fact. Many A list directors, actors and producers have worked with them and publicly state they are good actors, have an incredible work ethic, and would work with them again. Many more A listers have indicated they want to work with them...I assure you that would not be the case if they were horrible actors. No one would want to work with them or spend millions on a movie with them in it if they were unable to act.

    I think people like JillinLA love to beat the drum of negativity to keep things stirred're certainly entitled to your opinion but base your comments on fact and not on ridiculous comments. In that department my dear YOU fail...

  • Gaiter | February 17, 2012 5:55 AMReply

    Ive seen the trailer, Pattinson looks like he has done a fine job, along with Chriatina, It made me want to see the movie, and I agree his fan base includes alot of more mature ladies as well.

  • fortune | February 17, 2012 5:43 AMReply

    Pattinson is too modern looking and acting? He seems of that age born. I'm trying to think of even one other actor in his early to mid twenties that would be believable in that role and am coming up short. I am impressed so far with Ricci, I was worried she would look too modern but she seems to have pulled it off admirably.

  • Katherine | February 17, 2012 5:18 AMReply

    The plot of the film sounds intriguing and I like all of the actors so am anxious to see it when it finally comes out. I don't quite understand the too modern body language, Pattinson definitely has something though, as when he is onscreen with others he seems just as or more watchable. I love Kristin Scott Thomas, I've been following her career for a long time.

  • Tad | February 17, 2012 3:45 AMReply

    I thought the trailer looked very interesting, from that I thought everyone acquitted themselves well and that Rob especially looks ready made for such period piece as he seems one of the few current young actors that actually fits easily into that era. The accent doesn't hurt. Of the actresses, Christina and Kristin caught my eye in this. Christina seems especially appealing. Looking forward to an eventual release in the U.S.

  • Kate | February 17, 2012 1:34 AMReply

    2 Emma
    Allow people to solve.

  • JillinLA | February 17, 2012 1:21 AMReply

    Robert Pattinson can't act. Each time he chooses a project that is supposed to break him out of the mold and show talent but he ultimately fails. His fanbase does skew to older women and they are a part of his problem as you can see below. The only way he can salvage himself is to take on challenging ensemble pieces or something that doesn't have anything to do with his supposed beauty. Bel Ami would never be the type of film to grab moviegoers, but if the reviews were better it might have had a respectable arthouse bow.

  • Emma | February 16, 2012 11:16 PMReply

    Please fellow Rob fans, don't inundate websites like this with your condescending comments. This review is pretty good

  • Ben | February 16, 2012 11:04 PMReply

    Not half as condescending as a lot of reviewers...although a little contradicting. Looking forward to seeing the movie for myself.

  • Mar | February 16, 2012 10:38 PMReply

    Isn't Duroy supposed to be a social climber? Then would it have been possible for Robert to purposely act out of place - "casual and informal for the social circle"? Duroy is a pretender after all, right? If that's the case and you felt he was out of place, then Rob nailed it.

  • twmmy | February 17, 2012 4:56 AM

    Yeah, totally agreed. It was my next saying, you've said yet. He nailed the social outstandewr's habit well. Duroy was poor, from where the hell supposed he act like any other rich man in social connections? Gah!

  • GG | February 16, 2012 10:30 PMReply

    When will reviewers get over their odd misguided judgement of Pattinson and give the young man a fair go??? Its like they insist on hazing him forever just because he was Edward Cullen! It is unprofessional and childish in my opinion. Even from just seeing the clips released I can already gather that Pattinsons performance is a lot better than this review states. He deserves a bit of recognition for that.

  • IA | February 17, 2012 5:34 AM

    I am starting to agree with you and the comments from reviewers are getting every more creatively bizarre. They typically start off praising him for the first sentence and then throw in something very odd that takes it all back in the next. If nothing else his costars should buy him a bouquet as reviewers always lump them as one organism in every film as being better.

  • twmmy | February 16, 2012 9:57 PMReply

    I do think, not the teenagers made Remember Me and WFE quasi successfull. When oh, when will the critics lear their lesson? Just they need to know, we -no teenagers(i'm 53 years old) -made the Cosmopolis the MTV Brawl winner, and almost Bel Ami (if they didn't pairing the films together). And be sure we know the story, and we will understand that. Why am I feeling myself assaulted?

  • Vgirly | February 21, 2012 5:16 PM

    You should feel more embarassed. A 53 year old spending their entire day voting on an MTV website? Really?

  • Bel Ami fan | February 16, 2012 9:39 PMReply

    The media is very misinformed about Robert Pattinson's fanbase. They always assume it is teens, and overly judge him because of it. Yes, Twilight has a large teen fanbase, but the adult fanbase is just as large if not larger. The statistics of moviegoers who attended Breaking Dawn attest to that. I am tired of critics judging Pattinson as teen idol. They do not realize his fanbase crosses a large age range. Water for Elephants and Remember Me are other movies he has done that has attracted an older fan base.

  • enn | February 16, 2012 9:37 PMReply

    dont forget, Rob made this movie way before Water for Elephant and Cosmopolis, on 23 years old (now he almost 26) .. I think he grows as an actor. can wait for Cosmopolis but Bel Ami is still very much interesting with their beautiful costumes and its from french classic literature

  • Cuca | February 17, 2012 10:47 PM

    I totally agree!

  • melissa | February 16, 2012 9:34 PMReply

    You critics still can't get it right. Regardless of what you think of Pattinson, at least get something right...the fan base (his nor Twilight's) is no longer made up of giddy teenagers. Educate yourself.

  • Milrose | February 17, 2012 2:54 AM

    Robert is the best! Top of the list. Very fortunate guy.

  • tink | February 16, 2012 9:32 PMReply

    the film doesn't release on the 2nd in the states :( Sony hasn't announced a release date for the US.

  • Ilona | February 16, 2012 9:30 PMReply

    Excellent - and clearly kind - review. Which is appreciated. Cosmopolis is the one many are waiting for. Hurry up US distribution rights already!

  • Line | February 17, 2012 6:39 AM

    Adequate, not a bad actor, "RPatz"? And that's kind? You must have been beaten as a child.

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