Twilight idol Robert Pattinson plays author Guy de Maupassant's notorious cad Georges Duroy, a manipulative chancer whose way with the ladies powers his rise through the ranks of 19th century Parisian society. Uma Thurman, Kristen Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci are the wives who open more than doors for the seductive rogue. Dangerous liaisons abound in this chest-heaving adaptation of the classic immorality tale from 1885.
Kristin Scott Thomas
How Robert Pattinson's Twilight-dazzled devotees will react to seeing their dreamboat playing a selfish and determinedly unromantic rotter is hard to predict.
But all credit to the world's most pale and interesting heartthrob for subverting, if not entirely upending his image as Guy de Maupassant's homme fatale Georges Duroy, a penniless ex-soldier whose only talent is in the art of seduction.
While trawling the bar-brothels of Paris, Duroy bumps into the gruff but generous Forestier (Philip Glenister) with whom he served in North Africa and now wields clout at a powerful newspaper.
Invited to dinner, Duroy is introduced to Forestier's wife Madeleine (Thurman), the paper's chief editor Rousset (Meaney) and his considerably more genteel wife (Scott Thomas), and their flirty little married friend Clotilde (Ricci).
The evening results in a job (writing a soldier's diary for the paper), a mentor (the intimidatingly smart Madeleine) and the promise of adulterous fun (Clotilde).
Despite his professional limitations, society's new 'Bel Ami' (as Clotilde's daughter nicknames him) soon learns that there are easier ways to make a fortune than by working for it. Namely, exploiting the influence and loneliness of essentially decent women.
Striking a chord of modern-day relevance, Duroy's self-serving campaign is mirrored by the machinations of Forestier and Rousset who seek to get rich by backing the French government's sneaky plan to invade Morocco for its natural resources.
The politics, however, are quite dull. What the people really want is opulence, cruel rejections, and as much sexual skulduggery as you can squeeze into a 15 certificate corset.
Making their first foray into film, theatre pioneers Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod clearly get most of this in aiming to create a Dangerous Liaisons for a new generation.
That's underlined by Thurman, whose Madeleine could be Liaisons' Cecile de Volanges all grown up. In her best performance since Pulp Fiction, she gives her brooding young co-star an object lesson in how to combine cool with emotion.
She also takes charge in the most uncomfortable-looking sex scene since Marlon Brando last tangoed in Paris. It's an amusing case of just deserts.
Unfortunately, while the Pattinson glower®, twitches of lip, and arches of eyebrow are deployed to rascally effect, it's hard to see why sophisticated women would fall head over heels for a man of such obvious shallowness and tiresome petulance.
Ricci brightens the mood, Meaney and Glenister give good bluster, and Scott Thomas, as always, is splendid. But with Madeleine the only character driven by genuine feelings, the film mostly keeps viewers at a distance.
Bel Ami won't deter many Twi-hards, but any more behaviour like this and Team Edward will be calling for a new manager.