For a movie meant to be an animated frolicwriter/director David O. Russell’s amsterdam is remarkably laborious – an overly long and overloaded liquidation that costs very little. Set in 1933, it takes its time bringing together the main players in a convoluted plot loosely inspired by a real-life plot to unleash a fascist coup in the United States. However, that isn’t finalized until the movie is almost done, and for most of the running time it’s hard to tell what anyone is trying to accomplish or why.
At the start of the film, Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), a wounded World War I veteran, runs a practice in New York City dedicated to treating the physical and mental trauma of his fellow soldiers. He is drawn into the labyrinthine plot when his former commanding officer, Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Meekins’ daughter, Elizabeth (Taylor Swift), is convinced her father was murdered, and she hires Burt’s former Army buddy, Harold Woodsman (John David Washington), to investigate.
Soon Elizabeth died too, and Burt and Harold were framed for her murder. In their effort to clear their names, they reach out to wealthy scion Tom Voze (Rami Malek) and his wife, Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy), as well as famed retired general Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro). . Eventually, they reunite with Tom’s sister, Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), a former nurse who treated them both after the war and was in love with Harold.
The film stops short for a long flashback to 1918, when Burt, Harold and Valerie first met, moving from a military hospital to an apartment in Amsterdam, where they spent an idyllic time together. ‘after war. Amsterdam becomes a sort of talisman for the three characters, clinging to a time in their lives when they were happy and free, free from family expectations, racial prejudices or economic difficulties. But the supposed deep bond between the trio is never particularly compelling, and the romance between Valerie and Harold is listless and underdeveloped.
Russell can’t decide if he’s doing a cuddly comedy or a political drama or a period romance or a war movie or something else entirely, so he vacillates from one to the other, throwing as many famous faces as possible to the public. The full cast also includes everyone from Mike Myers and Chris Rock to Michael Shannon and Andrea Riseborough, most of whom don’t make a big impression. It doesn’t help that Bale sucks all the air in nearly every scene, giving one of his worst performances as the talkative, bossy Burt. He takes on a broad Jewish New York accent and constantly fidgets or mumbles, placing himself at the center of attention in every scene, whether he justifies it or not.
Washington and Robbie are relatively low-key, and they each find small amounts of pathos in their loosely defined personas. However, Russell cannot make room for any genuine emotion, always falling back on sarcastic banter and over-the-top aggression rather than anything heartfelt. It also stages many scenes awkwardly, with the actors delivering dialogue directly to the camera, making it hard to tell where the characters are in relation to each other.
Russell previously used an actual plot as source material for an entertaining saga with colorful characters and sharp humor in 2013. american hustlebut there are only occasional sparks of this intelligence in amsterdam. At the end, Russell simply delivers non-stop exposition in dialogue and voiceover, seemingly desperate to explain the themes and the story’s importance to the audience. His characters talk and talk, but nothing they say matters. ♦
Directed by David O. Russell
With Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie