Bel Ami, in which Robert Pattinson plays an opportunist who, despite lacking any real talent, achieves enormous success by trading upon the dizzying effect his good looks have on the ladies.

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It’s a bold move by Pattinson to play a character who provokes lines from other characters like: “I bet you can’t believe your luck,” and “I had no conception of the depths of your emptiness.”

This costume drama, based on a novel by Maupassant, is a basic rise-without-trace story with a dash of Liaisons Dangerous. Paris in the 1890s is a superficial society run by a corrupt elite that is trying to provoke a foreign war in order to secure lucrative natural resources.

Georges Duroy (Pattinson) is a destitute ex-soldier who, through a chance meeting with a former comrade, Forestier (Philip Glenister), gains access to high society and starts to put himself about among the wives of the rich and famous.

Whenever he’s free of playing Edward Cullenhands in Twilight, Pattinson just can’t stop smiling. As doors open and drawers drop for him, he goes around with the same bemused smile throughout. Often he doesn’t really come across as an actor at all, more like a model who has a certain natural screen presence. But in the first half of the film absolutely nobody looks like an actor.

Directors Delan Donnelly and Nick Ormerod are theatre types [with Cheek by Jowl] and they make a fantastically bad start to their career behind the camera. The first half is atrocious; the story-telling is slack, the dialogue is mostly exposition, the delivery across the board is unconvincing and the film seems to head towards catastrophe.

Then around halfway it all seems to click. There’s a scene where Pattinson and Uma Thurman make love, where the camera stays on his face.

It’s the first moment in the film that isn’t obvious and signposted and, in some inexplicable way, it bucks the whole film up.

The story never captures the attention but by the last half-hour the telling of it does. Ricci and Thurman in particular cut pitiful figures early on but by the end they have swung back to something like their very best.

BEL AMI (15)

Directors: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Colm Meaney and Philip Glenister

Length: 102 mins

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