What an absolute beautiful mess of a film.
It’s probably the only real way to describe exactly what convoluted, unengaging yet exceptionally picturesque movie writer/director David O. Russell has made with a tremendously high budget, endlessly talented if often miscast group of actors and one of Hollywood’s best cinematographers at his disposal.
The former Oscar nominee known for his sharp screenwriting and ability to draw compelling performances from his actors badly misfires with Amsterdam, a tale of three friends in post-World War I America who stumble upon a murder plot with ramifications far deeper than anyone could have expected.
The heart of the film is solid.
Christian Bale, John David Washington and Margot Robbie are a fantastic trio to center a feature around and while the romantic chemistry between Robbie and Washington is almost non-existent, there’s a camaraderie to the three that largely works despite itself and makes Amsterdam more than just a plodding watch.
Bale reteams with his The Fighter director that helped him win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the strongest performance in Amsterdam and is by far the most engaging character in the movie, not simply because of his Burt’s impairments – although a glass eye and back brace do give ample room for Bale to play – but his ability to make Burt exceptionally eccentric in physicality and cadence.
There’s always a slight head tilt or hunch or minor limp that plays up but doesn’t over emphasize Burt’s deformities and with a performer like Bale, it never feels forced or caricature. It’s clear that Bale is swinging for the fences with this work and often hits the right tone, but where things falter does not lie at the feet of the actors rather Russell’s inability to figure out what kind of a film he wants to make.
Amsterdam is both screwball comedy, political drama, murder mystery, serious, playful, quirky, dry, an amalgamation of way too many disparate parts that boggle viewers’ minds with its incoherency.
This truly makes an impact in Washington’s performance, who attempts to portray a more straight man to Bale’s free-flowing character while also flailing in efforts to build romantic chemistry with Robbie. The inability of Russell to blend Harold and Valerie’s romance alongside a larger kinship the couple share with their mutual platonic relationships with Burt really keeps the main narrative from truly taking off.
This isn’t to say that Washington and Robbie are at fault for the problems at hand. Robbie especially is giving a wonderful performance given how poorly the film’s female characters are handled from script to screen, a point also true for the exceptional Anya Taylor-Joy as Valerie’s sister and Zoe Saldana as an autopsy specialist. Indeed, musician Taylor Swift is thrown under the bus in service of Russell’s inept screenplay.
Often it feels as if Russell is building a larger cast for the sake of extended cameos, taking the main trio on a series of adventures just to insert another big-name performer into the mix.
If there is a silver lining to Amsterdam, it’s in the masterful cinematography from multi-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki that will likely be completely overlooked by audiences puzzled at how confusing and muddled the narrative structure of the film is.
Amsterdam almost intentionally disorients its viewers with changing tonality endless narration from multiple characters in an attempt to write out of plot-holes.
It’s easy to forget how beautiful this movie is when it wants to be.
At the end of Amsterdam, Russell has delivered an incredibly blah movie that thinks it has far more to say than it actually does.
An Oscar bait film with absolutely no shot at awards season, Amsterdam is a messy film that cinephiles should wait until the film releases on a streaming service before attempting to sit through.