Bel Ami review

The film as a whole might feel lopsided, but thankfully the stellar performances keep you entertained.

Social-climbing, villainous backstabbing and a rapacious Robert Pattinson combine in this slow but well-crafted study of a desperate man in desperate times. 

The hype...

All eyes are on Robert Pattinson as he tries to break away from his 'Twilight' character Edward Cullen. He's had some success already, but the likes of 'Remember Me' and 'Water for Elephants' have hardly been classics. This is his darkest role to date, and it's sure to test his appeal, especially as most of his fans can't get into a 15-certificate film.

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The story...
Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) is a down-on-his-luck army veteran living an aimless life in 1890s Paris. A chance encounter with a man he served with in Algeria leads to a dinner at the home of the Forestiers, where beautiful socialite Mrs Forestier (Uma Thurman) advises Georges on the best way to climb the social ladder: it's not the men of the city he needs to get to know, it's their wives.

Soon Georges is enjoying romances with Clotide (Christina Ricci) and Madame Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas), and his career as a newspaper columnist takes off. When Mr Forestier falls gravely ill, Georges is on hand to comfort the soon-to-be widow, and in turn lines himself up for another fortune.

As Georges becomes consumed by jealousy and greed, he sets his sights on a younger target. Will that be enough to satisfy his desires? And how many people will be left behind in his wake?

The breakdown...
The film begins at a meandering pace where only occasional flourishes by the actors light up a dull and dreary tone in the movie. Debut directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod fail to add any drama in the early scenes, but once it hits its stride and George begins his manoeuvring up the food chain things rapidly improve - even if it feels somewhat rushed.

R-Pattz, as we believe the kids call him, is on fine form in this mature story about a man keen on using his charm and good looks to further his career as a journalist. Not that we've ever been guilty of anything like that, obviously, but this does give the actor a chance to show a more identifiable side as opposed to his glittering vampire from the 'Twilight' series.

Previous attempts have been so-so, not really challenging the star to any great extent. Here, though, there is no place to hide and Pattinson excels. He oozes charm, and also succeeds in showing us a devious side without turning into a caricature cad.

Ricci and Thurman get rare occasions to show off opposite the leading man, and all that is left for Kristin Scott Thomas by the time she appears is the thankless task of an older woman who is desperately in love with a younger man. That said, she is wonderful in her portrayal, and makes Madame Rousset one of the only characters we actually cared about.

The film as a whole might feel lopsided, but thankfully the stellar performances keep you entertained. It's not quite the 'Twilight' bashing film that Pattinson needs to firmly establish himself away from that franchise, but a definite step in the right direction.

The verdict...
Things unfurl at a leisurely pace, but this does give us a chance to see Pattinson develop a distinctive character. His persona might be smug and dislikeable, but it does give credence to the acting ability of the star.

Rating: 3/5

'Bel Ami' is released nationwide on 9 March. Certificate: 15.