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Amsterdam: An Elite Cast can’t Save this Drab Period Piece

(L-R): Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington in 20th Century Studios' AMSTERDAM. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Amsterdam preview screening provided by Disney

“Amsterdam explores multiple themes and storylines at once, but without ever actually exploring them at a more thought provoking level”

What is going on in David O.Russell’s Amsterdam (2022)? That might be the question you have while watching this political mystery/comedy period piece. Amsterdam is the sort of cookie cutter satire that covers its poster with the names of some of the best current working actors purely for the sake of overcompensating for the tiresome two hours that await.

Like all bad mystery comedies, it’s a film that sells itself as a mystery comedy, but spends the better part of its runtime caught up in dreary subplots, poor pacing as a result of a sloppy script with rambling dialogue, and freeze frames and flashbacks that add no value and make no impact on the events of the narrative — other than to prolong what really doesn’t need to be prolonged, and to tick off its audience. This seems to be a running thread with Hollywood political satires as of late, with Adam McKay and O.Russell being the prime culprits behind these oftentimes overstuffed and generally unfunny takes on America’s political climate.

Amsterdam (not to be confused with similar city-oriented political features like 2018’s Roma or 2021’s Belfast) isn’t about the capital city of Netherlands. Rather, it’s a period political mystery/comedy that follows a doctor, Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) and his lawyer friend, Harold Woodman (John David Washington) as they become embroiled in a complex situation where they try and clear their names from a crime they didn’t commit in New York. The crime in question involves a short cameo from Taylor Swift whose character hires Burt and Harold to provide an autopsy on her deceased veteran father so as to figure out the circumstances surrounding his death.

Foul play is the name of the game and it’s initially what this film becomes concerned with. It doesn’t take long for O.Russell to drop a freeze frame and narrative monologue though, that takes you back years in time to basically explain how the characters have found themselves in this situation. This flashback involves the duo during their military days and the events leading up to Burt losing his eye and being torn apart by shrapnel alongside Harold. It’s here that O.Russell brings in the third player that will ultimately play a part in proceedings, Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie). She becomes the duos saving grace as she nurtures the wounded soldiers before they strike up a bond and become a trio who spend their happiest days in Amsterdam in each other’s company.

(L-R): Anya Taylor-Joy as Libby, Rami Malek as Tom, Christian Bale as Burt, Robert De Niro as Gil, and Margot Robbie as Valerie in 20th Century Studios' AMSTERDAM. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace; SMPSP. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

(L-R): Anya Taylor-Joy as Libby, Rami Malek as Tom, Christian Bale as Burt, Robert De Niro as Gil, and Margot Robbie as Valerie in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace; SMPSP. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

That’s about as simple as this film gets. It’s when O.Russell brings us back into the present, that convulsion subsumes coherency. Amsterdam explores multiple themes and storylines at once, but without ever actually exploring them at a more thought provoking level. From issues pertaining to fascism, to the core storyline surrounding finding the truth, right through to the wonky “rekindled love” subplot between Valerie and Harold — there’s too much to hope to make sense of in two hours.

When it comes to the wider cast, Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy play strange but key characters related to Valerie, Mike Myers and Michael Shannon also make small appearances as two undercover agents disguised as bird enthusiasts, and Robert de Niro is along for the ride as the “General” who will bring the closing sequence home and help clear up the mystery at the films core. Chris Rock is a further addition in this star-studded ensemble, but his presence is quite unnecessary and another example that Amsterdam just has too many questionable facets that only detract rather than enhance.

Too much of Amsterdam is spent in enclosed spaces where the main characters ask a bunch of questions to help lead them to the next clue, but once the next stop in this amazing race is revealed, they end up speaking without ever saying anything remotely interesting or useful to push the plot ahead. At times, you can feel the weight of these scenes drilling into your every fibre as you try to understand O.Russell’s logic in keeping them so lengthy. This is especially true whenever there are more than two characters in the same room (which is about 90% of the film), and it underplays the actual reason and importance behind these interactions in the first place.

Amsterdam is at its best in its early stages, where its sets itself up as a buddy-up mystery akin to The Pink Panther (1963). It’s at its worst at almost every other point as it sacrifices logic for meandering guessing games, ultimately taking you through a journey that offers little respite or time to actually absorb the information you’ve just been fed.

Amsterdam opens nationally from the 6th of October, 2022.


Arnel Duracak

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