Film: Bel Ami
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci
Directors: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod
Plot Synopsis: A chronicle of a young man's rise to power in Paris via his manipulation of the city's most influential and wealthy women.
He may have come a long way from his Twilight days to films with greater depth like Cosmopolis and The Rover but critics are not impressed with Robert Pattinson's performance in the adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's novel Bel Ami.
Michael O'Sullivan, WashingtonPost.com
Twilight’s Robert Pattinson portrays a vampire of a different sort in Bel Ami, an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel that is as wan and in need of blood as Edward Cullen.
It’s not that the movie -- by first-time directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, who come from the world of theater -- is dull, exactly. There’s plenty of sex and intrigue in this costume drama about a military veteran who uses his ability to seduce women to engineer his rise from poverty to a position of power in Paris.
It’s just that Pattinson’s performance is so enervated that his Georges Duroy comes across as something of a cipher. He’s not quite alive, yet also clearly not dead, given the amount of sex he has. He’s undead, or at least uninteresting.
Verdict: Georges Duroy is not a person, you see, so much as an insatiable appetite. That may be fine for a movie about bloodsuckers, but “Bel Ami” suffers from the lack of a relatable protagonist, or at least one with a beating heart.
Tim Robey, Telegraph.co.uk
Robert Pattinson is improving, film by film, with a make-or-break test of his acting coming up in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis: if you are terrible in a Cronenberg movie, you really ought to consider a change of profession.
If you’re Pattinson, meanwhile, being adequate in a Guy de Maupassant adaptation starring yourself, and directed by two first-timers to cinema, could be considered its own small feat, but that’s not to say non-converts to your stardom are going to feel veils tumbling from their grudging eyes.
We’ll say this for Pattinson: in the role of lothario Georges Duroy, who gets all of female Parisian society hot under the collar, his stabs at pettiness and vanity are appropriately lunging and blunt, rather than brilliant or polished. He also strips.
The man’s certainly not outclassed by his surroundings, which will look vaguely familiar to anyone who’s seen Stephen Frears’s similarly frivolous and overdressed Chéri (2009), though the sketch of Belle Époque Paris in this case was largely achieved on location in Hungary.
Verdict: Robert Pattinson needs some French polish in Bel Ami, a bland drama set in Belle Époque Paris.
Mary Pols, Time.com
It takes him awhile to figure out his nickname isn’t exactly a compliment. In Pattinson’s hands, George is an opportunist, but a naïve and petulant one; he’s so transparently devious and simultaneously dumb that if he lived today, he might set his sights on Paris Hilton or some such, taking the ticket to ride without considering what the life might be like on her ferris wheel. He’s neither a fun villain or a secret good guy; the movie feels like a senseless venture because, even with his pants down on top of Clotilde or manhandling Virginie, he’s the dullest scoundrel around. In the scenes set in the house he comes to share with Madeleine, I found myself focusing on the wallpaper behind him, which was also beautiful, but more interesting.
Is it his acting, the inexperience of co-directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod—each making their feature film debut—or both?
On the other hand, even an expert meanie like Colm Meany, playing George’s dismissive editor, doesn’t make much of an impression. The ladies fare a little better. Scott Thomas, despite her blessings in the innate elegance department, makes a convincing case she’s as pleased at being petted as a neglected whippet. In between considered puffs on a cigarette and playing a parlor game of French politics, Thurman’s Madeleine has a memorable sex scene with George involving both a figurative and, one senses from the pain on Pattinson’s face, literal testicular crushing. Time check: it’s been 24 years since she played the innocent virgin in the similarly themed, infinitely superior Dangerous Liaisons (which in turn spawned its own teenaged version, Cruel Intentions, apt to be a lot more fun for Pattinson’s Twilight fans than Bel Ami). Reality check: Robert Pattinson and John Malkovich; very different generations of le sex machine Française.
Verdict: This liaison with Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman and Kristen Scott Thomas is dangerous, but not in a good way
Stephen Holden, The New York Times
Mr. Pattinson’s strained performance in “Bel Ami” leads a long list of problems in a film whose plot is so elaborate it would have been better served spread out over several hours. Perhaps this film’s best-known forerunner is “The Private Affairs of Bel Ami,” the 1947 version starring George Sanders.
As you watch Mr. Pattinson twist his features into expressions of cunning and treachery, as if he had just been practicing in a mirror, the primary missing ingredient is charm. This reasonably good-looking 26-year-old English actor, with his asymmetrical eyes and a doughy torso, affects a cold, reptilian sneer. Bad boys may have their appeal, but this one lacks the animal magnetism of even an amateur Lothario. To watch Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas melt under his icy ministrations is to roll your eyes in disbelief.
Bel Ami, directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod from a screenplay by Rachel Bennette, is so skimpy in its character development and social observation that it plays like a lavishly illustrated outline that leaves you to fill in the blanks.
Verdict: The movie’s failure to evoke a rich tapestry of a Parisian society “filthy with money” where “even the whores are getting rich,” in Charles’s words, is all the sadder because the parallels between the dawn of the Belle Époque and our now-fading gilded age are so obvious.
Marshall Fine, Huffington Post
I'm not sure why, but no one has been willing or able to speak truth to box-office power, so let me try:
Robert Pattinson is a terrible actor.
Oh, he's pretty enough, with his sleepy eyes and pouty lips. Let him play a vampire in the Twilight series and he's fine.
But put him at the center of an actual movie -- as opposed to something presold and predigested like the Twilight films -- and he's revealed as an empty pretty boy, a black hole of talent.
If you don't believe that, go back and look at Little Ashes, where he was embarrassing as a young Salvador Dali; or Remember Me, a forgettable 9/11 romance; or Water for Elephants, in which he was chewed to pieces by a scenery-gobbling Christoph Waltz (and the elephants themselves).
Or watch him in the new Bel Ami, which opened in limited release June 8, in which he alternately smirks and pouts as a Belle Epoque social-climber. Adapted from a novel by Guy de Maupassant by a pair of directors -- Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod -- Bel Ami follows Pattinson's character, Georges Duroy, as he clambers from a roach-infested garret to the poshest chambers in 1890 Paris.
But the script is too sketchy by half and Pattinson lacks the resources to show us any inner life of this character. The story's point is that Georges is both foxy and self-deluding, but Pattinson can't carry both thoughts at the same time. Georges comes off as a petulant dope, who can think strategically but only in the broadest strokes. As a result, this becomes less a tale of intricate scheming and more one about a lucky dolt who fails upward.
Verdict: The women are all more than capable, and Meaney is a cagey old pro. But they're undermined by Pattinson, who gives nothing and drains energy, turning Bel Ami into a kind of holding action between the directors' attempts to go forward and Pattinson's determination to sink the ship, simply with his enervating presence.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian.co.uk
Robert Pattinson has to do an awful lot of hollow-eyed smouldering in this hammily enunciated French period drama, taken from the 1885 novel by Guy de Maupassant. He plays Georges, a young fellow on the make in Paris, and those cheekbones are soon cutting a swath through fashionable womanhood; he beds simpering society women who cadge jobs for him from their powerful husbands. He's a cross between Becky Sharp and Dorian Gray. As super-sexy political hostess Madeleine, Uma Thurman is always rolling around perfumed boudoirs in her underwear, scanning state papers and declaiming things like: "Look at the grain exports to Algiers!" The most dangerously self-conscious liaison is with Mme Walters, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who is demurely at prayer when Georges shows up vampirically behind her, looking for a socially advantageous shag. "You are trying to seduce me in church!" Kristin hisses redundantly; she winds up having to be girly, clingy and pathetic with Georges when it looks all too clearly as if she could eat Pattinson for her pre-breakfast amuse-bouche.
Verdict: Robert Pattinson smoulders his way around 19th-century Paris in this hammy Maupassant adaptation