‘Bel Ami’: The Reviews Are In!

'This new 'Bel Ami' has a lot to recommend it, but it never seems as artful or smart as 'Dangerous Liaisons,' writes Noel Murray of the A.V. Club.
By Kara Warner

Robert Pattinson in "Bel Ami"
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

At long last, your wait to see Robert Pattinson in all his shirtless, pants-less, bum-baring big-screen glory has arrived! "Bel Ami" opens in Los Angeles, New York and other select cites Friday (June 8), in addition to already being available on VOD.

Our story takes place in 19th-century Paris, where self-made man of sorts Georges Duroy (Pattinson) uses his wits and powers of seduction to rise from poverty to wealth, from a prostitute's embrace to passionate trysts with wealthy beauties. It's a curiously familiar societal setting in which politics and media jostle for influence and where sex is power and celebrity an obsession.

As excited as Pattinson fans are to see their favorite star in action, the critical mass is less than impressed with the "Twilight" hunk's assets in this particular period piece as it's currently sitting at a 31 percent "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Without further ado, let's sift through the "Bel Ami" reviews!

The Story
"Guy de Maupassant's novel 'Bel Ami' has been adapted for the stage and screen multiple times — most memorably in 1947, in a movie starring George Sanders and Angela Lansbury. The novel's appeal is obvious: It explores the social strata of 19th-century Paris by showing an ambitious scoundrel hopping from bed to bed. But given the era when the book was written, and given when its best-known adaptations were made, most 'Bel Ami's have had to imply a lot, being coy about what's really happening in those private chambers. So for the new adaptation, directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod and screenwriter Rachel Bennette try to take more advantage of the freedoms of modern cinema, making sure that their 'Bel Ami' has plenty of sex and straight talk. The result is almost a test case for whether explicitness is a virtue. The verdict? Inconclusive. This new 'Bel Ami' has a lot to recommend it, but it never seems as artful or smart as 'Dangerous Liaisons,' the film it most resembles." — Noel Murray, A.V. Club

Pattinson's Paramours
"What we get ... is a dumb, entitled-but-tortured dreamboat falling into bed with a bunch of aristocratic women, and then turning inexplicably and insupportably Machiavellian only after he's thoroughly slighted. First charming the throaty, free-spirited Madame Forestier (Uma Thurman, giving the film's most engaged performance, to little avail), then the apparently erotically frustrated and still slightly gaminesque Clotilde (Christina Ricci, who looks pretty comfortable striking poses inspired by Degas' odalisques, bless her heart) and finally wife-of-hated-boss Virginie (Kristin Scott-Thomas), Pattinson maintains the air of a kid being sent to bed without dessert. ... The more experienced moviegoer may experience relief from the movie's tedium by recalling the much better period pieces that female members of the cast have appeared in. Seeing Thurman in elaborate costume brought back fond memories of the much edgier and coherent and fun 'Dangerous Liasons.' For Ricci, of course, there's 'Prozac Nation,' no, wait, sorry, the appealingly bloody Gothic 'Sleepy Hollow.' And for Scott-Thomas, well, when her character finds out that Duroy has just left the army after serving for five years in Algiers, she says, 'I once heard a rather foolish story about the desert,' and of course I thought, 'You mean "The English Patient"?' " — Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies

A Pouty Pattinson?
"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. ... 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." — Stephen Holden, The New York Times

The Final Word, Pro-Con Style
"[O]n the whole 'Bel Ami' is highly watchable. As is often the case in costume pictures especially, the degree to which different characters are convincingly of the world of the film varies. Thomas, for instance, is at once tragically and comically lovely as the good, religious wife seduced out of her right mind. She can telegraph that world in a glance and a few words. Thurman has a tougher time with Madeleine; although she makes a shattering indictment of Georges near the end, her character in particular — the ambitious political player stymied by her sex — demonstrates an endemic problem with the script (by Rachel Bennette) and the direction: The best performances seem to inhabit a story that the filmmaking doesn't bear out." — Michelle Orange, Movieline

"Is it his acting, the inexperience of co-directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod — each making their feature film debut — or both? Some reports from Cannes (although not from TIME's Richard Corliss) had Pattinson coming into his own in David Cronenberg's 'Cosmopolis,' but he gives no hint of depth in 'Bel Ami.' 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." — Mary Pols, Time

Check out everything we've got on "Bel Ami."

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