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by Eric Kohn
June 5, 2012 11:50 AM
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Scowls and Smirks: 'Bel Ami' Is the Latest Proof That Robert Pattinson Needs a New Career Plan

Robert Pattinson looking characteristically dreary in 'Bel Ami.'
Robert Pattinson was cast in the biggest role of his burgeoning career not as an actor but an object of lust. The "Twilight" movies, which conclude with the final adaptation of Stephanie Meyers' vampiric book series this fall, fit Pattinson so perfectly as immortal hottie Edward Cullen that the franchise made him a star even before the release of the first installment. With a performance style exclusively composed of sullen glances and distant sighs, Pattinson was Meyer's lascivious prose incarnate. As "Twilight" comes to an end, however, Pattinson's wooden schtick has started to tread water, with "Bel Ami" opening this week to provide the latest example.

Having achieved global celebrity at such an early stage in his career, Pattinson's apparent interest in more mature dramatic material deserves some rudimentary appreciation, but "Bel Ami" never provides him with the opportunity to develop his range. A stilted adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's 1885 novel about a young British entrepreneur making his way to the top of a Paris-based aristocracy by sleeping around, directors Declan Dennellan and Nick Ormerod complement the most rudimentary aspects of Pattinson's lifeless screen presence. Pattinson portrays the monotonous Georges Duroy in two equally dry modes: scowls and smirks.

In town straight out of military experiences in Algeria, he gets right to work infiltrating the richest local scene, tracking down former soldier pal Charles (Philip Glenister) and promptly wooing every woman among his close circle of friends. These include young Clotilde (Christina Ricci, who at least appears to be enjoying the basic screenplay commands to flutter her eyelashes), one of several married women Georges proceeds to bed with the promise of something more. Ultimately, he sets his sights on Charles' wife, the worldly Madeleine (Uma Thurman), who detects the young man's self-serving agenda but plays along anyway.

Nevertheless, the real focus is Georges' ability to use sexual prowess to attain power, and it does so without a modicum of depth or insight into the character's operating motives or how the mores of the period sustain his greed. Instead, Pattinson lurks through one mannered scene after another, his eyes locked in position like dark marbles even when in the throes of an onscreen orgasm.

This is a unique moment to investigate the boundaries of Pattinson's abilities. Just two weeks ago, his leading role in David Cronenberg's equally morbid "Cosmopolis" was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival. While Cronenberg's adaptation of Don Delillo's novella has a sharper, more incisive script, littered with sly capitalist indictments, it asks little of Pattinson in much the same manner as "Twilight" and its sequels. As with those movies, the Pattinson character serves to reflect the ideas and attitudes of those around him.

The root problem goes back to the origins of Pattinson's fame, a trajectory oddly mirrored by the plot of "Bel Ami." Through no qualifications other than his social affiliations and good luck, Georges lands a gig as a newspaper journalist and promptly finds himself under fire for his nonexistent writing skills. Thrust into the limelight, Pattinson has similarly found a gateway to ambitious projects without proving his performative value.

There's no doubting his legitimate urge to improve. The actor has expressed interest in working with Todd Solondz, whose tender character study "Dark Horse" opens this week. Looking at "Dark Horse," it's hard to imagine swapping the schlubby lead Jordan Gelber, who plays a grown bachelor still living with his demanding parents, for the expressionless Pattinson. To date, he simply gives no impression of any emotional complexities beneath the surface of his immaculate features.

Attempting to play aggressive charmers, Pattinson has said he takes his inspiration from that requisite archetype for soulful tough guys, James Dean. To grow as an actor, however, he must push beyond that mold and recreate his image with a different kind of challenge. Clearly, he's an actor with understatement on his side; perhaps Keanu Reeves' career path could lead him in a more fruitful direction. For now, he's just a cold face. Both "Cosmopolis" and "Bel Ami" end with close-ups of Pattinson's dreary stare. After the final "Twilight" movie hits theaters this fall, he will need to find somewhere meaningful to focus his gaze. Unlike Edward Cullen, acting careers don't live forever.

Criticwire grade: D

HOW WILL IT PLAY? "Bel Ami" opens in limited release this Friday, and while Pattinson's fame elevate its presence, the movie is unlikely to draw large crowds. However, it has already been released on VOD by Magnolia Pictures and seems well-positioned to perform well there.

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15 Comments

  • critic's critic | July 5, 2012 2:59 PMReply

    Oh please, enough with the bashing. He is young and willing to learn. You probably are just so conditioned to seeing over-actors (and there's a lot of them out there) that subtlety in expression just goes way over your head. You also sound like them people that just hate those that have it all - youth, good looks, success. How very sad.

  • Fortuna | June 14, 2012 7:29 PMReply

    Fuck off Indiewire

  • twihag | June 5, 2012 4:20 PMReply

    Anne Thompson is a twihard? Ewww...unfollowing her NOW. That's why I always thought she was completely biased, she is always praising those shitty Twilight couple. IA, she's not a ciritic whatsoever, she's just a hag. Indiewire should fire her, or you'll lose crediblity.

  • Anon | June 5, 2012 4:05 PMReply

    The problem with Pattinson is that directors keep casting him as a lead when he should really only be support. ROVER with Guy Pearce changes things, if it ever gets off the ground. He should also consider the stage or respectable televsion work to help him improve. BEL AMI will perform well with his fans but is unlikely to earn him any new ones.

  • deedee | June 5, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    Pattinson's carrer is over after Twilight. Deal with it twihards lol. Nobody's going to pay to see this movie or Cosmopolis either.

  • a_svirn | June 5, 2012 3:03 PMReply

    Funny thing, Kohn seems to be as invested in Pattinson career as his fans. The greater part of the review is about his future as an actor. I almost thought I was reading "Vulture".

  • Dave | June 5, 2012 2:33 PMReply

    I was somewhat curious about this adaptation but thanks for the heads up Eric. Saving my money for better movies, not connected to fangirls.

  • tyler | June 5, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    I saw Cosmopolis and the guy sucks big time in it. Yes the Twilight boy delivers the same 2 expressions he's known for and the film is as dull as him, not to mention it's also sexist, shallow and violent. The worst movie Cronenberg ever directed. Sorry but Pattinson's career won't go beyond Twilight. He's got no range.

  • Diana | June 5, 2012 2:23 PMReply

    Eric, you will eat your words. Mr. Pattinson has a charismatic & compelling personality. I've watched Bel Ami numerous times on VOD & will buy the DVD. It appears as of today the closest theater is 1030 miles round trip. I will see Cosmopolis in the theater & buy the DVD. This actor is to be watched. By the way, don't be so lazy. Your quick judgments & vapid analogies will always get you in trouble.

  • godiva | June 5, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    Skipping this crap, of course.

  • Boredom | June 5, 2012 2:05 PMReply

    Twihards freaking out again! LOL Bad actors like Pattinson will never improve. Keanu Reeves looks like Brando in comparison. BTW Anne Thompson is not a movie critic. She is just a boring Twihard as well. ITA with everything written in this article. Truth hurts but you have to deal with it if you want to improve.

  • Light | June 5, 2012 1:55 PMReply

    What an unfair and highly insulting review, making parallels of his life to this movie. You do not like his performance in Bel Ami, ok, but that doesn't give you the right to say that he is non-deserving of the roles he took just because he got lucky with Twilight. It's a good thing Pattinson has the right attitude despite critics like you unfairly reviewing his work like this. He is very much aware how critics view him (as he has said recently during an interview at Cannes) and the much higher standards that seem to be put on him, but he acknowledged and understood that this is because of his sudden fame and because he didnt have much of a body of work, so the only thing he can do really is find interesting roles and continue to learn and build his body of work. And I just find it perplexing too that you mentioned Cosmopolis and implying he didn't do well in that Cannes-selected movie. I've read so many reviews praising his performance so maybe its just you who didnt get the character or the movie at all? I mean, wasn't it just here in this same site that I recently read a write up by Anne Thompson about who came out ahead after Cannes? Here's the part that mentions Pattinson.

    "Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, with Cannes competition entries from Walter Salles ("On the Road") and David Cronenberg ("Cosmopolis") respectively, both proved their acting skills outside of the "Twilight" franchise. Yes they were top-draws on the red carpet, but both earned respectful if not rave reviews. Stewart was earthily sexy in "On the Road," in a way we have not seen her before, while Pattinson nabbed praise for playing a cold and unlikeable Wall Street master of the universe. Both came out ahead and earned needed gravitas by coming to Cannes starring in films by notable directors.". Fancy that.

    And for the record, I enjoyed Bel Ami and Pattinsons's interpretation of Duroy (who is not a British soldier by the way, but French). Duroy was an uncouth, talentless and shallow person who uses his charm and physical attributes to go up the social ladder. I've read this classic novel and found Duroy completely abhorrent in it, but Pattinson's Duroy made him a little likeable to me which I give much credit to how he portrayed him. The editing of the movie is a little disjointed here and there, but I enjoyed the movie overall, even if I'm not much of a period movies fan.

  • nadia | June 5, 2012 1:23 PMReply

    Yawn, enough of Pattinson. Next please.

  • terry | June 5, 2012 1:11 PMReply

    Pattinson was, is and will always be a TERRIBLE actor. And not even remotely good looking I must add. Too bad he's ruining film after film, taking roles that must have gone to real actors.

  • Missy | June 5, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    This was a poignant observation: "The root problem goes back to the origins of Pattinson's fame, a trajectory oddly mirrored by the plot of 'Bel Ami.'"
    Thanks for the warning. I was interested in seeing this if only for the cast (mainly Kristin Scott Thomas), but it sounds like it's worth waiting for rental. Or skipping entirely.