There’s a feral quality lurking beneath the surface of Robert Pattinson’s smoldering prettiness. It would have made him the perfect choice for a centuries-old vampire living in a young man’s body if the Twilight series had anything on its mind other than making tween girls swoon, and he would seem the ideal actor to portray Guy de Maupassant’s social-climbing rogue Georges Duroy if this latest adaptation of Bel Ami conceived him as a character rather than a series of machinations. (If the point is simply to have Pattinson leering under a top hat, just go ahead and cast him as Dorian Gray, already.) But Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod have concocted a film as banal and hollow as Duroy himself.
The obviousness of their direction is exposed at the outset, as Duroy stands outside a luxurious restaurant, staring in. The penniless ex-soldier gains entrée to Paris society through a journalist acquaintance and, spurned by the men he encounters, he manipulates the women, embarking on a series of advantageous affairs. Pattinson displays Duroy’s appetites as broadly as a Tex Avery wolf, his perpetual sneer expressing both lust for power and disdain for those he’s surpassed. His performance suggests a campier approach, especially in his scenes with Uma Thurman as a lover whose intelligence reduces him to childish physical impulse. Unfortunately, nothing else in this pedestrian period piece has the wit to follow up on that suggestion.