Bel Ami Declan Donnellan & Nick Ormerod

Bel Ami Declan Donnellan & Nick Ormerod
While exploiting literature and cultural dynamics of the past as a nouveau critique of modern times gone awry and history repeating itself is nothing new, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod's use of Guy de Maupassant's novel, Bel Ami, to attack the nature of networking and the ties between politics and media is quite astute. They've taken the tale of ex-soldier Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) in 1890s Paris moving up the ranks of society by manipulating and screwing, both figuratively and literally, everyone in his path and equated it to current notions of corporate and celebrity success. To expand, when a chance encounter with military buddy Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) leads Georges to a job writing stories about his military experience, he winds up utilizing the ambition and wit of Forestier's wife, Madeleine (Uma Thurman), to mask his borderline illiteracy. While doing so, he flatters Virginie Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas) for social gain with her editor-in-chief husband (Colm Meaney) and bangs married society woman Clotilde (Christina Ricci). Noting a subplot about the newspaper's collusion with the government to buy out and invade Morocco to cash in on their natural resources, this tale of sexual desires and abject motivations has its sights set on slamming the current status quo with maximum aplomb. Even the act of casting current heartthrob Pattinson in the role of Georges Duroy, a talentless dilettante that uses his sexuality to indulge his callous greed and id impulses, holds a bit of subtext. The problem is that Donnellan and Ormerod are so impressed with the allegory they've created that they forget about the very passions motivating each character throughout the story. The entire film floats by like a montage, rushing through pivotal defining moments with little more than a melodramatic reaction and a heightened orchestral score to transition from one scene to the next. And while the three lead actresses do their best to make their screen time count, adding complexity to their roster of differing characters ― whether Ricci's sincere identification with someone choosing money over love, Thurman's single-minded ambition or Scott Thomas's repressed passion and obsession ― it's not quite enough to compensate for direction that rarely allows them time to breathe and live. What's more is that Pattinson's depiction of a man driven solely by success at any cost vacillates between manic and idiotic, making confusing his motivations, or even appeal, to the many more astute and consistent women in his life. If anything, Ricci's extremely astute reactions to his behaviours and actions give his character far more depth than his melodramatic interpretation ever could. It's only her looks and unlikely self-destructive identification that give heart to this exercise in above average didactics. Included with the DVD is a very brief behind-the-scenes where, unsurprisingly, the directors talk about said didactics, seemingly unconcerned with the lack of passion and emotion in their story of abject morality paying off. (Sony)