Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bel Ami

Three's A Crowd

Robert Pattinson is probably trying very hard to shake off his glittering vampire role in Twilight that had earned him millions of fans and followers worldwide, opting to play a shady character who's not very talented, but possessing enough good looks to tempt and seduce his way up the social ladder in 19th century Paris, and to chase fame and fortune by milking the right female connections in his established network. He's a cad with a capital C, without much of a plan except to sleep his way to get what he wants.

The story, by Rachel Bennette based on the 1885 French novel by Guy de Maupassant, deals with the notion of how far good looks can get one ahead in life when one is without much talent or smarts, having a number of doors that can be opened from a simple praise, or a smile, and to have urges satisfied by being emotionally and physically available, even if the former mindset and actions are nothing more than a little play pretense.

This is the classic rags to riches story and the story about insatiable greed in always wanting something more, or someone more beautiful. Pattinson plays Georges Duroy, an impoverished man who just came back from the war front, and given a leg up in life when he runs into an old acquaintance who himself is married to old money. Pattinson almost sets his eye on his friend's wife Madeleine Forestler (Uma Thurman), if not for her to spurn his advances and to set the record straight that she's there only to help him initially in his job as a columnist..

It is Madeleine's doing however, to set him off into the arms of her friend Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci), whose husband is almost always out of town, and soon both Georges and Clotilde become adulterous lovers, made all the more convenient when Clotilde gets their own love nest where they can carry out their illicit affair. In effect Clotilde becomes his sugar mommy, and of course tongues will start to wag and Georges becomes increasingly erratic in not able to control his emotions, before ruining a life that's perfectly set up. But second chances always present themselves, and Georges couldn't get it any better with being reinstated in his job thanks to Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas), and ultimately being able to get married to Madeleine.

But life isn't all that rosy, with Madeleine spending a lot of time on politics behind the scenes of a revolution spear-headed by the newspaper and editors Georges works for, and herself having her own lovers that Georges was warned way early of, and when Georges starts to plot, things get very ugly indeed as his true colours start to show, emotionally breaking Virginie, and unleashing his vengeance on Madeleine, made all the more worst when he felt he had been played out of a huge chunk of wealth, and going after the innocence of Suzanne Rousset (Holliday Grainger) as revenge against her father and his one-time corporate nemesis.

And the surprise package here is Pattinson. Sure we can take out potshots and laugh at his turn as the glittering, pale vampire involved in a romance that doesn't know when to call it quits, but his effort here as the amorous and the evil Georges Duroy is something to sit up and take notice. But of course the women surrounding him all made him look good as well, with Christina Ricci being relatively underrated here as a woman desperate for true love, while Uma Thurman does quite the about turn now from her early debut during Dangerous Liaisons, progressing from what was once the equivalent of a Suzanne Rousset, to an ambitious woman who will do what it takes to secure a stake in the power play amongst men. Kristin Scott Thomas is perhaps the most underused here, only appearing in a handful of scenes toward the end, playing the most vulnerable of the female characters bearing full brunt of Georges Duroy at his most despicable.

Directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod has quite a classy film in their hands, with lush sets and costumes transporting the reader instantly to a period Paris, and with the quality of cast at their disposal, delivered an intensely engaging drama about the temptation and seduction of power, and the incessant obsession with the climbing of the social ladder given the promises of fame and fortune that comes automatically with the ascension of each rung. Recommended!

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