Amsterdam is for the birds. David O. Russell’s film lacks focus and lacks restraint. A self-indulgent piece of filmmaking with stale themes that no amount of production value or Hollywood stars can hide.
This review of the film Amsterdam (2022) does not contain spoilers.
There’s just no way around it. Amsterdam is for the birds. Even more shocking is that this comes from the esteemed, very mercurial, and yet somehow not canceled director of Three Kings, Silver Lining’s Playbook, American Hustle, and Flirting with Disaster. David O. Russell‘s latest film lacks focus and restraint. This is an overtly self-indulgent piece of filmmaking with stale themes that no amount of production value or stars can hide.
Loosely based on the Business Plot — a conspiracy with several rich businesspeople plotting to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt and replace him with retired General Smedley Butler — two best friends are wanted for murder after their former squad leader turned Senator, Bill Meekins was killed. Burt (Christian Bale) is a lawyer specializing in treating veterans’ pain regimens. His best friend, Harold (John David Washington), a lawyer, has him examine the body as a favor to Meekins’ daughter, Elizabeth (played by Taylor Swift).
As they investigate further, a hired gun (an unrecognizable Timothy Olyphant) attacks them. And let’s say, one of them won’t be shaking it off. This sends Burt and Harold on the run and into an old friend, Valerie (Margot Robbie), a beautiful woman they met during the war overseas in Amsterdam. Valerie has always been eccentric, but now she is a mess. Physicians have been treating Valarie for multiple mental health conditions for years. The former nurse is now practically under lock and key. Valerie’s sister, Libby (Anya-Taylor Joy), and her husband, Tom (played by Rami Malek), look after her. All three reunite as a team to figure out who murdered their former commander and the fascist plot behind the madness.
Russell also wrote the script, and the talented staples of his best films are missing. All the sandy screwball characters are rudderless and have no edge. There are no innovative filmmaking techniques. For example, in Three Kings, you watch what a bullet does to the human body. It is strange not to examine the effects of pain medication and addiction on the human body. There are no attempts at existential comedy, which is head-scratching. Mostly because several characters display anxious traits under certain dread, but there is little excitement or tension.
Yet, performances are unconscious and are as three-dimensional as gas station cardboard cutouts. Perhaps to emulate a population abusing self-medication but still doesn’t work. And for a filmmaker’s obsession with the depiction and reaction to mental health, characters with such issues are just considered eccentric here. There was a real chance to examine trauma deeply here, but the attempt is only superficial.
For such a complex story — the script here is one of the most convoluted offerings from a significant studio award contender in recent memory — and a deep bench, Amsterdam should have been a madcap success. However, Russell’s trademark snappy dialogue is frenetic, has an awkward pace, and moves the plot all over the map. In fact, by the film’s third act, the back and forth becomes strangely repetitive. This is the type of showcase where the actor and auteur will pat themselves on the back, but it’s too opulent and sybaritic for their own good. The obvious attempt at humor is there, but the laughs are strangely absent.
Bale gives his usual excellent performance, with his behaviors and mannerisms consistently entertaining. The production and costume design are dazzling. And the film has such a deep bench — Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Zoe Saldana, and Robert DeNiro — you will have to wonder if everyone listed signed on based on Russell’s reputation or maybe some elaborate Hollywood Ponzi scheme. Yet, the final product is left in disarray, all by aiming to be that “nonsense song that makes us feel good” that becomes muddled under the weight of Amsterdam’s ambitious story.
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