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Published on March 13th, 2012 | by Sinead Keogh

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Movie Review: Bel Ami

Between Twilight and period drama, we’ve never seen Robert Pattinson with normal hair. Perhaps, like Sampson, his hair is the source of all of Pattinson’s power. But whether long, sideburned and flopsy for period drama or styled to unnatural perfection for his role as vampy heartthrob Edward Cullen, it is just as well Pattinson’s hair shows some personality because it’s the only thing that distinguishes him from role to role.

Of course, it’s not all his fault, his naturally fanglike teeth make it difficult to look beyond his vampiric outings as Edward Cullen as well. And, just like Hugh Grant’s flopsy do of the ’90s, Pattinson’s teeth are the physical manifestation of typecasting. He’s got a look and it’s difficult to stray from thinking of him as the vampire adonis.

In the opening scenes of Bel Ami we are whisked immediately into 19th century Paris, where the girls flow and the drinks are easy. Pattinson is a soldier returned from war, using his connection with a more senior, wealthier officer to gild the good fortune of having been born good looking. They drink amidst too-loud music (it’s actually difficult to hear dialogue for a few minutes) and Pattinson’s George goes home with a prostitute who must be taking the place of a coat so carelessly is she flung over the end of his bed. Between the setting and Pattinson’s past, it’s not unlike some sort of odd YouTube video response to Interview with a Vampire, but we carry on and he secures a job writing for a newspaper, masking his schoolboy grasp of English by having the officer’s wife, played by Uma Thurman, produce his columns.

Thurman is, put simply, at her very best. Striking, confident and powerful she plays the beautiful Madeleine, a political heavyweight who has long since mastered the art of disseminating her ideas through the bylines of male journalists at La Vie Francais and managing to look happy about it. Husky and well-costumed, Thurman should and does ooze sex appeal, but she also turns in a sharply-observed performance as a brilliant woman of measured strides, nervous energy and quiet resolve.

Equally impressive is Christina Ricci as  Clotilde, friend of Thurman’s Madeleine and George’s first society conquest. Ricci pitches her performance as quiet, lovely Clotilde perfectly while Kristin Scott Thomas is her ideal opposite number as the older, highly strung, maddening Virginie, wife of George’s boss (played by Colm Meaney) and the third notch on his society wives bedpost. It’s strange to see Scott Thomas looking so much older than in her Four Weddings days, but Wikipedia confirms that she’s 51 this year and she’s well cast as the nervous, unsure older woman.

A triumph for its female stars, Bel Ami is still ultimately lacking any great punch. George, meant to be tearing his way through every noteworthy bedroom in Paris in his attempt to Casanova his way to the top, is no Casanova. He comes across as childish and stupid in a tale that has no secondary action to bolster its impact. Though there are some beautifully shot scenes, some excellent on-screen moments – particularly those featuring Thurman – and solid support in the form of Meaney and Philip Glenister, the final offering fails to come together well.

It’s certainly watchable and has it’s moments, but we wouldn’t slap your wrist for missing it. Pattinson fans will enjoy a pleasant outing and a few durty scenes.

 

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About the Author

Sinéad edits books for her real job. She has never met a punctuation mark she didn't like. She likes cheese (both kinds). She is a lip-biter and a knuckle cracker. She has made a list of 50 things to do before she dies - you're not on it. In particular, she looks after movies, comedy gigs and the Event of the Week series for Culch. You can email her if you want, she loves attention. sinead@culch.ie



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