Amsterdam Review

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Here is a description of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington. Remi Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola all in one scene in Amsterdam at some point. This could be the most talent-packed scene of 2022 — but it’s also indicative of what’s wrong with David O. Russell’s sprawl-y, sporadically engaging film: It’s both over-stuffed and under-nourished. It offers up ambitious filmmaking with strong craft and great bits and big thematic swings but Amsterdam never really catches fire, it doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its occasionally impressive parts

Amsterdam begins with a title card: “A lot of this really happened,” mostly referring to an obscure dark chapter of US history — an elaborate political coup conspiracy — that surfaces in the second half. Before it gets there, Russell’s script is a mash-up of different sub-genres — crime flick, Hawksian screwball comedy, two-guys-and-a-girl picture — that never finds the right tone to blend its wilder and more serious elements. It’s at its most fun when it draws the friendship between doctor Burt (Christian Bale), lawyer Harold (John David Washington) and nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie) in a long flashback section that evokes a freewheeling Jules Et Jim-ish caprice.

This idealistic flavor can’t survive in an over-complicated murder plot that blows up into something bigger; Russell wants to use it to make points about contemporary America (hint: standing up to fascists) but it’s not serious enough for trenchant satire or energetic enough for zany farce.

The leading trio are played winningly if thinly by Bale and Robbie (both characters have too many quirks: him – false eye that falls out, likes to experiment with meds; her – pipe-smoking, making sculpture out of shrapnel) and Washington (somewhat flavorless by comparison). The supporting cast — from Malek and Taylor-Joy’s social-climbers to Myers and Shannon’s bird-watching spies — register without being especially memorable. Taylor Swift gets an instantly meme-able moment. Russell regular De Niro, playing a comrade of the murdered General, provides an anchor for the waywardness.

The Russell film it most resembles is American Hustle in terms of flamboyance and broad scope — not to mention great costumes (take a bow J.R. Hawbaker and the legendary Albert Wolsky). From production designer Judy Becker’s recreations of ’30s New York City to DP Emmanuel Lubezki’s luscious fluid sepia-toned imagery, Amsterdam is a pleasure to look at. It’s also fun to listen to; Daniel Pemberton’s score brings airiness and much-needed urgency, mainly via woodwind action. Too bad all that technical expertise couldn’t align with better-judged storytelling. Amsterdam wants to celebrate love, humanity and kindness in the messy tapestry of life. It just needed more care and control in weaving the threads.

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