Amsterdam Image


By Alex Saveliev | October 4, 2022

A case could be made against David O. Russell for being one of the most overrated filmmakers of all time, widely hailed for a series of frankly run-of-the-mill features. His cinematic blandness now reaches its apotheosis in the overstuffed period piece/comedy/romance/murder mystery/sort-of-based-on-a-true-story caper Amsterdam. This time, however, the writer-director’s perverse, continuous, and purposeful avoidance of any semblance of genuine emotion or coherence results in an aggressively unpleasant experience. The labyrinthine plot serves little purpose, becoming more needlessly convoluted as it progresses.

Field surgeon Burt (Christian Bale) forms a deep friendship with soldier Harold (John David Washington) during WWI. Both men get horrifically injured, and quirky nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie) treats their wounds. She then uses the bloody shrapnel to create provocative art pieces. Valerie and Harold fall for each other. The trio escapes to Amsterdam, where they lead a bohemian existence in a shabby apartment.

Alas, this idyllic lifestyle cannot last. Burt goes back to New York, hoping to rekindle his relationship with the morally-corrupt, idiotically-named Beatrice Vandenheuvel (Andrea Riseborough), in addition to developing his medical practice. Harold follows in pursuit of a law degree. The two are soon framed for the murders of General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) and his daughter Liz (Taylor Swift). A complex web of intrigue, both personal and political, is consequently unveiled, involving eccentric agents Paul Canterbury (Mike Myers) and Henry Norcross (Michael Shannon), shadowy thug Taron Milfax (Timothy Olyphant), General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), and a host of other characters.

The two are soon framed for the murders of General Bill Meekins and his daughter…”

Amsterdam amounts to a glossy showcase of Hollywood stars, most having little to do but recite lines with varying degrees of annoying intonations. They pop up to briefly serve the plot, hence creating zero investment on the audience’s behalf. Bale fares best, making the most out of his character’s fake eyeball, hunchback, and series of heightened mannerisms. Washington’s blank, while Robbie does what she can with an overwritten role. The rest of the cast ranges from cringe-worthy to mildly tolerable. Take away the inherent star appeal, along with the production values, and this becomes borderline unwatchable.

The prevailing issue is the tonal and pacing inconsistency. The film never fully embraces its campy, “jazz hands” roots, aiming to flirt with farce heavily while having one foot planted firmly in (its version of) reality. Russell ends up dancing around genres, not quite fitting into any particular one, lurching ahead with an intense smugness; it’s on you if you don’t “get it.” The ostentatious antics and lackluster punchlines fail to tickle the ribcage, the twists frustrate rather than thrill, and perhaps most importantly, the central trio’s relationship isn’t nearly as affecting as the filmmaker seems to think.

Burt reconstructs wounded soldiers’ bodies and faces, just like his own were stitched back together (the degree of grisliness approaches Cronenbergian). Chris Rock’s character Milton King does little else but shout out racial injustices. Everyone’s a pawn in a larger scheme. These are the ways Russell deals with themes of PTSD, early-20th-Century racial tensions, and political corruption. He says nothing new nor finds novel ways of saying the old – unless all the curious stylistic choices, such as the often-jarring editing, pretentious lines of dialogue, or actors randomly talking to the camera, count as “novel.”

I would call this a misfire, but in a career of misfires, a film like Amsterdam is par for the course. Perhaps the audience will catch on this time, and, unlike most of the director’s other features, it will crash and burn at the box office, despite all the surface gloss and triple-A-list names. If it’s any indication, the screening I attended was mostly silent, accompanied by a palpable, growing indifference towards all the dull/desperate shenanigans on screen.

Amsterdam (2022)

Directed and Written: David O. Russell

Starring: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Taylor Swift, etc.

Movie score: 3/10

Amsterdam Image

"…a glossy showcase of Hollywood stars..."

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