Written and Directed by David O. Russell.
Starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Robert De Niro, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Mel Fair, Vaughn Page, Bonnie Hellman, Max Perlich, Jessica Drake, Ed Begley Jr., Colleen Camp, Gabé Doppelt, Casey Biggs, Dey Young, Sean Avery, Casey Graf, Rebecca Wisocky, Daniel Riordan, Steven Hack, Floyd Armstrong, Leonard A. Tucker Jr., Richie Harrington, Beth Grant, Christopher Gehrman, Leland Orser, and David Babbitt.
In the 1930s, three friends—a doctor, a nurse, and an attorney—witness a murder, become suspects themselves and uncover one of the most outrageous plots in North American history.
Writer/director David O. Russell’s Amsterdam is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. Touting an insanely large cast of household names, it’s also no surprise that David O. Russell is again gunning for frenzied chaos (a style he pulled off so well in Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter before crashing down with Joy), but here, he simply never achieves that. Amsterdam thinks it’s zany and crazy (admittedly, the third act reveals a relatively unexpected and wild), but the energy on screen reeks of desperation and hardly engages.
Christian Bale is World War I veteran Burt Berendsen, practically forced into combat by his partner Beatrice’s (Andrea Riseborough) father, now working as a physician repairing soldiers’ faces and experimenting with pain medications. He also has a glass eye (something you will never forget because it’s consistently popped or punched out as a sight gag that’s only slightly amusing the first time).
Burt and his lawyer friend Harold Woodman (John David Washington) are contacted by Taylor Swift’s Liz Meekins (a glorified cameo and surprisingly decent turn from the popstar) to perform an autopsy on her father and their former superior, General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), who she feels was murdered. Ignoring the advice of their other friend Milton King (a contemporary speaking Chris Rock who seems determined to obliterate the believability that this is the 1930s every second he is on screen) that this is a bad idea, they proceed.
Moments later, Burt and Harold are wrapped in a non-mystery; they witness another murder committed by Taron Milfax (Timothy Olyphant) that everyone (including two detectives played by Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts) is convinced was done by them. There is an actual mystery here, one that brings in Margot Robbie’s Valerie Voze, introduced via lengthy flashback showcasing how she nursed the injuries of Burt and Harold (a sequence that is bizarrely played for comedy), inevitably leading to a friendship packed to remain in Amsterdam looking after one another (Harold and Valerie became romantically entwined, and eventually, Burt felt he had to go back to New York to be with the Beatrice).
Back in the present day, Harold becomes reacquainted with Valerie (she deserted him after the pact ended), now seemingly suffering from nerve damage and prone to falling. Her sister Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her bird-watching obsessed husband, Tom Voze (Rami Malek), give various medications. Then there are a pair of spies played by Mike Myers and Michael Shannon. At long last, our heroes want an audience with General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), a friend of the murdered general, who might be the key to figuring out what’s going on.
Even over two hours, nothing remotely fascinating stands out about these characters other than David O. Russell has ultimately crafted a film about friendship and kindness between a crippled soldier, a nurse with vertigo, and a Black man in the 1930s, who went on to crack a conspiracy. Amsterdam is also a movie that announces “a lot of this actually happened”, and while some of the specifics are crazy, nothing about the narrative feels grounded or honest. There are few highlights here, but Alessandro Nivola as a bumbling idiot detective and Anya Taylor-Joy horny for Robert De Niro are amusing.
As a whole, Amsterdam never goes beyond slightly amusing. It’s visually unappealing with a bleak color palette at odds with the quirky nature of the storytelling, the story takes forever to arrive somewhere intriguing, and it’s filled with legitimate movie stars that have nothing to do but try to elicit chuckles with material that’s never as whipsmart or frenetic or even as loud as a typical David O. Russell film, despite that being the goal here.
After about 20 minutes of watching everyone fail, you too might wish you had a glass eye to take out, so you don’t have to watch anymore. Although it will be worth putting back in for the final 30 minutes, which click because most of the ensemble is together, and the story finds some direction with diabolical schemes to expose while landing on a worthwhile message about friendship and life.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com