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Amsterdam (A Movie Review)


Starring Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro, Ed Begley Jr., Leland Orser, Tom Irwin, Beth Grant, Bonnie Hellman, Max Perlich and Colleen Camp.

Screenplay by David O. Russell.

Directed by David O. Russell.

Distributed by 20th Century Studios. 134 minutes. Rated R.

I always want to really like David O. Russell’s films, and I always tend to walk out feeling just a bit unsatisfied. This goes back to early films like Spanking the Monkey and Flirting With Disaster, he always makes highly eccentric, interesting movies, but they never quite work. And yes, I am including his critical darlings like Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter.

Now, add Amsterdam to that list.

Amsterdam is loosely (very loosely) based on real events in history in the leadup to World War II. It has enough story for any 10 films, a packed cast of stars and superstars, a sadly very topical storyline and a weird, surrealistic point-of-view – and yet the longer I sat through it, the more antsy I felt. This was exacerbated by a horribly heavy-handed, preachy ending – and this is coming from someone who agreed with many of the socio-political points being made.

It's rare that so much talent is used for so little reward.

The true story which this film is based (again, very loosely) upon took place in 1933, when a group of very rich industrialists decided they wanted to replace Franklin Roosevelt – the sitting President – with a famous and respected General. The General was not willing to play along with their plot and thus it was foiled, however the billionaires and schemers behind the plot did not ever pay any price for their part in the attempted coup.

Sound at all familiar?

So, you can see why the subject matter appealed to Russell. However, he decided to focus on the outskirts of the conspiracy, looking at two former wounded veterans (of WWI) who are put in the position of having to try to unravel the plot or being arrested for a murder which they did not commit.

Christian Bale plays Burt Berendsen, a former soldier who was badly injured in battle – losing his eye and forcing him to wear a brace just to walk and function. (And yes, the oddball name pretty much warns you about his offbeat character.) A doctor by trade, he has lost his license because he has started a clinic for fellow disabled veterans in which he uses experimental drugs – many of which he makes and uses himself as a guinea pig to see if they will help or simply make people fall to the ground.

Bale’s character is almost willfully over the top. He reminds me of nothing so much as Tom Hanks’ cartoonish performance in the Coen Brothers’ remake of the British classic comedy The Ladykillers. I assume, like Hanks, that Bale was instructed to play the role so broadly, but that doesn’t stop it from being distractingly clownish.

His best friend is Harold Woodman (John David Washington), a fellow soldier from the war who was also badly injured at the same time and place with Berendsen. While also rather eccentric, Harold is much more normal and has returned to New York to become a lawyer. Their little gang also has Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) – a nurse who helped to save their lives in the war and who eventually turns out to have her share of eccentricities herself, and who has fallen for Harold.

When their former commander dies suddenly and mysteriously, his daughter (Taylor Swift) asks Burt to do an autopsy to find his cause of death, which thrusts the three into the middle of the whole scheme. Burt and Harold are framed for murder, and they have to prove their innocence and save the country.

Like I said, it’s a very complex story. And that’s just the start of it, there is a whole huge group of supporting characters and subplots which I haven’t even touched upon. Unfortunately, it’s not all that engaging. Basically, Amsterdam is a comedy that is not overly funny, a thriller that is not very thrilling, and a mystery that is not very mysterious.

Then the speechifying starts. Any patience you may have had for Amsterdam fades away like a bad dream.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: October 7, 2022.

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