Sign in using your account with
Bel Ami: Love & Greed in La Belle Époque
Bel Ami, in a nutshell, is a reverse gendered, corseted take on Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ except way less contagious or fun. And while the song in general could have been written for Georges, these lyrics in particular encapsulate his own particular attitude towards life:
They can beg and they can plead but they can’t see the light
Because the boy with the cold, hard cash is always mister right.
Acting-wise, Pattinson’s Twilight experience has served him well. He’s now a master in onscreen brooding as Bel Ami is only too happy to showcase. He pouts, he smoulders, he burns with a desire for riches, but funnily enough, he’s highly unconvincing when playing the seducer. Georges is almost painfully passionate about money and Pattinson completely nails the side of him that willl do anything to steer clear of poverty’s clutches. But when it comes to women, Georges is as bland and stilted as Edward Cullen.
As for the women, Thurman and Scott-Thomas give oddly exaggerated performances. The latter in particular changes, in the blink of an eye, from the quintessential lady to one suffering from hysteria, throwing herself at Georges’ feet and begging for a scrap of his attention. Ricci on the other hand, is perfect as Clotilde; Georges’ main squeeze. She manages to nail her character without veering into the theatrical and gives a rather captivating performance. Needless to say, however, all three of them look incredible in their costumes.
As is only fitting for a film set in la belle époque, Bel Ami is beautiful. For all their grandeur, however, the costumes and décor are still incapable of distracting you from the fact that the film is just incredibly melodramatic. It’s like an old school soap opera; the kind that move at a glacial pace over millions of episodes.
There’s an interesting story buried in there and the film has quite a talented cast, but what it lacks is a good director; one capable of coaxing performances as good as Ricci’s from the rest of the cast – not an impossible feat by any means and one that could have made the film consistently entertaining instead of being as patchy as it is.
The first half focuses far too much on Kelsey and Lynette and not enough on say, Rebecca Hall who plays Alan’s sister Mel. In fact, the film in general is pretty light on Hall and she just randomly drops out of the film without having her arc tied up, even though she’s the most magnetic performer in the whole thing. Canterbury, on the other hand, has far too big a part and while he’s decent as Kelsey, his pouting does become a bit one-note after a while.
The second half is, thankfully, far superior, mainly because Alan and Ben grow out of their immaturity and are forced to make some big decisions that shed some light on their relationship and back story. This is also where Sandvig and Ritter’s chemistry shines. They really nail the old friends dynamic and it stretches and warps as a wedge is driven between them, challenging their entire way of life.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.