‘Amsterdam’ Movie Review: David O. Russell’s Star-Studded Comedy Can’t Find Its Footing
David O. Russell has a signature eccentric style that stretches across his filmography, but it doesn’t always work. The high-energy screenplay coupled with very dramatic performances worked for Silver Linings Playbook, but it failed miserably in American Hustle. Unfortunately, Russell’s Amsterdam is an absolute flop that exhausts more than it exhilarates.
‘Amsterdam’ is a 1930s murder mystery with a side of romance
Set in the 1930s, Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a doctor who works tirelessly to help the veterans that fought alongside him in the war. Things take a violent turn for the worse back at home when he and his friend, Harold Woodman (John David Washington), are framed for a murder they witnessed. The pair join forces with Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) to help them get to the bottom of it.
Amsterdam follows the trio of friends as the mystery unveils a plot that could threaten the future of America. However, they see a light at the end of the tunnel that indicates a happy future filled with love and peace. They paid the price in one war and want to put death and injury behind them.
Writer/director David O. Russell dissects the ongoing battle between love and hate
Amsterdam opens with the title card that “a lot of this really happened.” Russell blends fact and fiction in a story about a doctor, a nurse, and a lawyer. They each present a different perspective on America, as they each served and sacrificed in the war in various ways. Their experiences also allowed them to grow as people together and separate from one another. The importance of memory plays a critical part in this story, as love and friendship are just as much at stake as the result of the murder mystery.
Russell takes even the darkest of his themes and makes light of them with humor. Burt, Harold, and Valerie make an unlikely trio, as they come from different worlds. Nevertheless, each person serves their use in getting to the bottom of the mystery, which also makes its way into the gags. They come across a wide variety of peculiar characters, expanding the cast to a large collection of supporting roles that aren’t given the agency to do very much. Unfortunately, the jokes just don’t land.
That isn’t to say that Amsterdam doesn’t have something to say. Despite the murder mystery taking center stage, Russell is largely tackling the ongoing battle between love and hate. There’s a romance that takes place over the course of the story, but he’s getting at differing types of love that bond this trio of characters to one another. However, Russell doesn’t manage to find a way to tell that story in a cohesive, compelling fashion.
‘Amsterdam’ is a celebrity-obsessed misfire
Amsterdam doesn’t know the tone it wants to have. It jumps between a murder mystery, a romance in an unfamiliar land, and a comedy, but Russell doesn’t find a balance. Each of the three story directions is underbaked, presenting a feature film that doesn’t ultimately succeed at any of them. There are so many characters that the audience never gets the opportunity to latch onto them in any meaningful way.
Russell packs as many stars as he can into Amsterdam. There are a few fun cameos that will surely get some smiles out of viewers, but this consistently takes precedence over the story. Washington and Robbie have nonexistent chemistry that falls flat and never manages to pick itself back up. Meanwhile, Anya Taylor-Joy and Rami Malek are the highlights of the movie, sharing the most strange chemistry that somehow works. She gets the opportunity to play a character very different from her previous roles, which she clearly takes on without fear.
Russell’s chatty dialogue style doesn’t have the same charm that it had in some of his previous features. It’s a predictable slog with pacing problems that continue to mount as the film unravels. Similar to his 2013 movie American Hustle, the third act balloons into an incredibly bloated conclusion that aims for a payoff it never earned. Amsterdam is celebrity-obsessed, unfunny, and painfully monotonous.
Amsterdam releases in theaters on Oct. 7.