When you have a cast as large and as talented as the one assembled for Amsterdam, one would naturally have high expectations for the film. Containing a whole host of award-winning actors, such as Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Shannon, Robert De Niro among many, many others, that would be a safe assumption. As you get deeper and deeper into Amsterdam’s two-hour and 14-minute runtime, you realize that none of it is clicking. The elements are there, but for some reason, nothing is gelling together.
It’s not even that the film is trying to hit all of the typical beats you would expect from a movie seeking award-season nominations. There’s an ambition for sure: most movies with this scale and scope have ambition. Sadly, it feels like each actor is competing against one another for fame and recognition and trampling over each other in the process.
It’s a shame since this could have been a good movie, but as is, Amsterdam is just kind of a mess.
Director: David O’ Russell
Release Date: October 7, 2022
Set in the 1930s, Amsterdam follows a trio of friends: Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), a nurse named Valerie (Margot Robbie), and their lawyer friend Harold (John David Washington). The three were war buddies in World War I and set up shop in Amsterdam, but eventually drifted apart due to time and Burt wanting to reestablish a life back in America. They’re reunited when Harold and Burt’s former CO, senator Bill Meekins, dies and his daughter (Taylor Swift) assumes foul play. She’s murdered right in front of Burt and Harold’s eyes and the two are framed for murder, so with the help of an estranged Valerie, they attempt to clear their names, and find out who murdered Meekins and his daughter, and why.
The premise for this murder mystery is solid, but the problem is that Amsterdam meanders around countless plot threads that detract from everything around it. Due to the size and talent of the cast, virtually everyone needs to have some major subplot and some notable screen time dedicated to giving them space for what I can only describe as an Oscar clip. It makes the film too cluttered, with the plot being pulled in countless directions and no one wanting to concede to each other.
Even then, the scenes where the actors are allowed to give their all are clunkily executed. They usually stare directly into the camera and state the meaning of their struggle or the themes of the film with no subtlety. It comes across as amateurish, which is weird given that the production design of the film is anything but. The sets are all full of rich details and make you feel like you’re in either Amsterdam, New York City, or a war hospital in France. The climax of the movie takes place at a lavish veteran’s party with tons of music, dance, and drinks to go around. When the movie wants to have fun, it can have fun and you will have a decent time.
At the same measure, you can’t help but shake the feeling that the film is almost forcing itself to be funny. Christian Bale plays an over-the-top half-Jewish doctor whose incessant interrupting and narration are meant to be charming, but only come across as distracting. Michael Shannon and Mike Myers are a pair of undercover government agents that take a huge fascination in bird watching which serves as their character’s only real defining trait. These moments sound fine on paper, but in execution, they don’t stick the landing. By the time you’re 10 minutes into the movie, you’ll have seen how Amsterdam shows off its humor and it becomes boring and predictable by the end.
The film seems to acknowledge this and almost gives up by the time the climax is reached. Most of the resolution takes place in narration, there’s very little satisfaction to the mystery being solved, and all that we’re left with is a quick “where are they now” for most of the cast, as well as the obligatory mentioning of the real world events that inspired the film. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the film is based on a real historical event, The Business Plot, that attempted to overthrow then-President FDR with a dictator. It’s an interesting footnote in history, but one that doesn’t really serve to create a juicy plot, only vehicles for performances.
Those performances serve as a double-edged sword for the film. At their worst, they’re aggravating and tedious, like Bale’s. At times, they’re dull and uninspired like Washington’s. But then you have legitimately solid performances, like Robbie’s. Amsterdam is chaotic since it can never fully settle on being bad, uninteresting, or good. It changes not only from scene to scene but from frame to frame. In a later scene, when Rami Malek is talking with Robert De Niro, Malek looks like he’s on Valium while De Niro’s commanding presence just dominates over everyone in the room. With more refined directing, since this ultimately comes down to O’ Russell not being able to direct the cast efficiently, Amsterdam may have been an acting powerhouse. As it stands, it’s one where the actors took the reigns and stumbled their way through the film.
Amsterdam isn’t a complete disaster. After seeing Don’t Worry Darling not even two weeks ago, it isn’t even the worst movie in theaters. Still, it’s by far the most unremarkable one. It tries to present itself as this funny and slick thriller with an all-star cast but instead collapses in on itself from a lack of solid direction. If the film had a different director and reeled in a lot of the subplots and asides, it probably would have been a film that I would recommend.
Without those elements, there’s not much to really bother seeing other than a handful of decent performances and some solid production design that, honestly, wouldn’t stand strong compared to upcoming movies like Babylon or Tar.