Bel Ami, which charts the rise of a manipulative and ruthless young soldier through the ranks of high Parisian society in the late 1800s, is let down by the same sense of emptiness that is inherent in the story's main character.

The film is an adaptation of the Guy de Maupassant novel of the same name and sees Twilight's Robert Pattinson trying to break free of the teen franchise in the central role of social climber Georges Duroy.

Duroy has just returned from three years of service in Algeria, when a chance encounter with an old army colleague, Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), leads him to being welcomed by the upper echelons of the upper class in Paris. Despite being almost illiterate, Forestier gets Duroy a job as a journalist in the national daily paper - his friend's wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) agreeing to give him a helping hand with his column.

Ambitious and ruthless, Duroy quickly comes to the realisation that - being as devoid of talent as he is - his best chance of gaining any success is through seducing the wives of the city's most powerful men. He begins by taking a young socialite, Clotilde (Christina Ricci), as a lover.

This is just the beginning of a series of seductions, which lead to his marriage to well-connected Madeleine when her husband passes away. When Duroy realises he has met his match in his equally devious wife, he begins an affair with the outwardly pious Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas), wife of the paper's editor, Monsieur Rousset (Colm Meaney).

Duroy's sexual indiscretions and utter lack of compassion are given little explanation in the film, which is its greatest downfall. In one scene he reveals that his desire to escape poverty and his peasant roots are the motivation behind his climb up the social ladder, but the audience is not given any chance to empathise or relate to him, which left me cold.

Pattinson is given little to work with in the central role, and his character's lack of complexity leads to a performance that seems to consist of wolfish smiles, brooding stares and occasional nostril flares when he is enraged.

Of the three women he becomes embroiled with, Ricci stands out as the coquettish Clotilde, her doe-eyed appearance lending itself well to the vulnerability of the character. Thurman is a little theatrical as Madeline, giving a stilted and awkward feel to some of her scenes.

Overall, there is a sense that this just didn't quite work out as planned. The costume and set design display a keen attention to detail and are well-realised, but the performances just don't gel. It is perhaps down to the fact that this is Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod's first foray into feature films - their background is in theatre.

Pattinson is unlikely to earn himself too many accolades for his portrayal of the morally bankrupt Duroy. We'll have to look to David Cronenberg's upcoming Cosmopolis to see if he has what it takes to break away from his heartthrob status and sink his teeth into a beefier role.

Sarah McIntyre