"A lot of this really happened."
The new historical movie from writer/director David O. Russell, "Amsterdam," is an overstuffed ensemble dramedy dripping with frenzied undertones. Starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, the latest effort from the "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook" director veers off into too many directions for one person to concentrate on. Yet, there are elements of greatness beneath the surface.
Set in the 1930s, or World War I depending on how you look at it, "Amsterdam" tells the story of three best friends who escape the trenches of war, meet up in Amsterdam, return to New York, and find themselves at the center of a possible murder plot. At least that's how it's set up. In reality, the central premise of the movie doesn't come into focus until at least an hour of screen time, which depicts Burt (Bale), Harold (Washington), and Valerie (Robbie) in striking crescendos of dilemmas when they are faced with fascism creeping into America at an alarming rate. Sounds like fun? It sort of is for a bit.
Bale embodies the glass-eyed Burt, a physician specializing in reconstructive surgery for veterans returning from war. Washington's Harold is a lawyer who often teams up with Burt on cases that need their assistance. One day, a prominent New York figure's daughter (Taylor Swift) comes to them in need of help with an autopsy of her deceased father, who she suspects was murdered even though the rest of her family is convinced he died of natural causes. This initial investigation and a subsequent driveby murder send the pair into a tailspin of intrigue that reunites them with Robbie's Valerie and reveals tidbits of New York's elite underbelly with every clue they uncover.
Produced by Drake (yup, you read that correctly) and masterfully shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, "Amsterdam" may be a sluggish mess, but it's a beautiful one. If not for the wildly entertaining performances from Christian Bale and supporting player Robert De Niro, the movie may have descended into its own chaos. Still, Bale and De Niro seem to keep it afloat. David O. Russell fills this convoluted true story with as many A-list stars as one movie could hold, and it becomes distracting over two hours. If you're opting to see "Amsterdam" for Taylor Swift or Chris Rock, you will be sorely disappointed to find that most high-profile actors outside of the three principal leads are in the film for a total of a few minutes each.
The chemistry between the three leads is palpable, and their constant reassurance of each other's resilience throughout the film makes for some fun in a story that becomes complicated with every scene. While "Amsterdam" was undoubtedly enjoyable to film for its many costars, the merriment doesn't quite translate to the screen. The plethora of side characters and celebrity cameos becomes confusing for a plot that is already too elaborate.
At least they'll always have Amsterdam.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟1/2