It had been shrouded in mystery for weeks, but glimmers of it through the trailer and the poster suggested Amsterdam would be a stylish period thriller competing for distinction against the many other revered films David O. Russell has created such: as American Hustle, The Fighter, or Silver Linings Playbook. Amsterdam does stand out from the rest of his oeuvre I can reveal, by being the most awful, awful film in it.
What even happened?
That was the question my friend posed to me just as the credits started to roll. The plot was, to be fair, as hard to follow as a Dutch person cycling to work. It begins in 1933 in New York where we are introduced to Christian Bale playing wacky pro-bono doctor Burt, and John David Washington as a much more level-headed attorney Harold. They are asked to perform an autopsy of Bill Meekings, their former commander during The Great War. The daughter of Meekings, played by Taylor Swift in a performance so wooden it could be used in an Oak Furniture Land advert, is murdered in a traffic accident and Burt and Harold start crazily running around trying to clear their name as they were bystanders at her death. Right as it seems as if the action is about to get going, we flashback to 1918 and see the pair younger fighting for their country. They wind up in hospital to be treated by nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) who makes art out of the shrapnel from the soldiers’ bodies.
Still with me? As you can see the film is convoluted, and that’s only the start. The tone of the film is also all over the place, lurching from light and whimsical to wannabe dark political drama. When it is trying to be the latter, there is far too much exposition, the director evidently thinks the audience is far dumber than him. The film mansplains its way to the finale where the whole mystery is revealed but still doesn’t make sense. Without giving much away, they could have chosen a much simpler idea of a bomb plot and it would have been a much better film.
Performances that shine through the chaos
It is a shame in many ways as this is a film that is packed with great performances. Our leading trio of Robbie, Washington, and Bale will undoubtedly put a smile on your face as you watch them sing nonsense songs in France or create conceptual art in Amsterdam, where they hang out for a couple of years afterwards. Anya-Taylor Joy, Rami Malki, and Mike Myers are all in this film and bring good comic moments. Even Robert de Niro turns up and does his shouty Robert de Niro thing, which in fairness never fails. The only weak link is Taylor Swift, but she dies so quickly you can almost forget about her. Everyone has visually stunning costumes, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who previously worked on Gravity and The Birdman, shoots the film as beautifully as you would expect.
It is utterly bamboozling that Russell O Davis could have made such a flop when so many of the ingredients were right. The fault lies in his arduous script and odd direction.
So, to watch or not? It has its humorous moments, but you would be better off just watching it on fast-forward to look at the gorgeous mise-en-scène and ignoring all of the dialogue.