Amsterdam Review

PLOT: Two World War I veterans, a doctor (Christian Bale) and a lawyer (John David Washington), are hired by the daughter of their former commanding officer to prove the man was murdered. Soon framed for murder, the two are reunited with the nurse (Margot Robbie) that was devoted to them after the war and stumble upon a Fascist plot to replace the president of the United States.

REVIEW: A lot is going on in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam. The early reviews have been largely negative, with many criticizing the movie’s loose, sometimes shambling and uneasy mix of genres. However, if you can get over the off-putting tone, which ranges from slapstick comedy one moment to bursts of gory ultra-violence the next, you’ll find Amsterdam is an ambitious and entertaining film.

Believe it or not, the plot of Amsterdam, which relates to a Fascist plot to take over the United States government, is (loosely) based on something that actually happened. It’s an interesting companion piece to Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein’s The U.S. and the Holocaust, which covers some of the same ground, including dark forays that were made into Eugenics (which had notable proponents) and the support Adolf Hitler received from influential figures like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh.

Amsterdam, trailer, official trailer, movie trailer, david o. russell

What’s puzzling is that while all the elements are there to make Amsterdam a political thriller, Russell’s instead opted to make it into a comedic buddy comedy. The film primarily centres around Christian Bale’s Burt Berendsen, who’s almost a Chaplin-esque figure. We learn that the half-Jewish doctor was forced to enlist in WWI thanks to his Park Avenue in-laws and his faithless wife (Andrea Riseborough), who resent that he’s not a pure WASP. Once there, he was severely maimed, leaving his body scarred by shrapnel. Most significantly, he lost an eye and was left in constant pain, leading to his efforts to develop a new “pain pill,” which is played mainly for comic effect (with him taking pratfalls when they knock him out). Still, he remains the eternal optimist, and Bale’s rarely played such a warm-hearted guy.

By contrast, neither Margot Robbie nor John David Washington fare as well. They play his devoted friends and are supposed to be star-crossed lovers, but Russell seems to avoid any hint of affection between the two. When we learn they’re supposed to be in love, it seems to have somewhat come out of the blue, and you never really invest in them as a couple. It doesn’t help that both are saddled with Bale’s scenery-chewing, as this is his show all the way. By contrast, Washington is his straight man, while Robbie is absent for large stretches and doesn’t have the same pathos as her co-stars.

Another distracting thing Russell does is that he’s filled every small role with superstar actors. While it’s impressive that he could coral so many stars, it’s distracting when people like Taylor Swift, Michael Shannon, Chris Rock, Timothy Olyphant and many more show up in roles that less famous players might have better filled. Swift fans will be provoked into a frenzy if they think she has a substantial role here, although, to be fair, she acquits herself nicely in the part. Everyone is good, especially Mike Myers, who’s cast against type as a plummy, English spymaster, but the big cast feels like a gimmick. The only ones with substantial parts that merit their inclusion are Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy and Robert De Niro, all of whom play characters vital to the main plot. Zoe Saldana is also sweet as a pathologist with a crush on Bale’s crusading, kindly doctor – who’s still hung up on his cruel ex. Too many other roles only feel like they exist so Russell can go off on tangents.

If it all seems convoluted, it is. But, even if I was often puzzled by some of Russell’s choices while watching it, I was nonetheless entertained. He keeps the movie plugging along at a spirited pace, while the production design is superb. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is less striking than his usual work, but the film still looks good, while the score by Daniel Pemberton is terrific.

While Amsterdam (which should have kept its original title – Canterbury Glass – which is a pivotal part of the plot) is weirdly off-kilter and eccentric for much of its running time, it’s also utterly unique in design and tone. It’s not as good as Russell’s best movies (Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle), but it has energy and personality. It also features Bale at his loosest in years, and his likability in the leading role keeps the movie going when Russell’s tangents get to be a little much.




Viewer Ratings (0 reviews)

Add your rating

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.