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Getting Lost in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a confusing movie with a meandering plot amidst a beautiful rendering of 1930s New York

Amsterdam (2022)

5 / 5
INCLUVIE SCORE
5 / 5
MOVIE SCORE

 

Amsterdam was a gamble. David O. Russell is a talented filmmaker, but he rarely brings in big box office numbers. The camera moves effectively in the film and the set design combined with the visual effects make for a beautifully accurate rendering of 1930s New York City. He also packed the movie with a star-studded cast including Margot Robbie, Christian Bale, and Taylor Swift. But nothing could save the fate of this long-delayed production. 

According to IMDB, the film cost $80 million, but only had a domestic return of roughly $15 million dollars.  New Regency financed the film and is expected to lose $100 million on the project.  Much of this is because the movie suffered from production delays due to COVID, with filming moved from Boston to Los Angeles due to pandemic concerns.  This relocation jacked up the movie’s budget by $30 million dollars alone.

“A lot of this really happened” reads the text at the start of the film.  A similar line appears at the beginning of Russell’s American Hustle.  Russell is preparing his audience for something outrageous or a story that’s too zany to be true.  It’s a great and tantalizing way to reel in the viewer whether the movie delivers or not.  

From left, John David Washington as Harold, Christian Bale as Burt and Margot Robbie as Valerie in “Amsterdam.” (Merie Weismiller/20th Century Studios/TNS)

 

The film follows three friends: Burt Berendsen(Christian Bale), Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), and Harold Woodsman (John David Washington), who form a close bond in Amsterdam in the late 1910s.  Burt and Harold are World War I soldiers injured in battle.  Valerie is the nurse that tended to them.  We fast forward to New York in the early 1930s.  Burt is a doctor while Harold is a lawyer.  Neither has seen Valerie since their time abroad.  Harold asks Burt to perform an autopsy on their recently deceased former commander Bill Meekins.  Meekins’ daughter Elizabeth, played by Taylor Swift, believes her father was murdered.  During the examination, Harold discovers poison in Meekins’ system.  Harold and Burt go to Elizabeth to share their findings.  It is during this encounter that Elizabeth gets pushed into the street, run over by a car and killed.  Harold and Burt are framed for the murder and flee the scene.  

In their quest to prove their innocence and uncover the murder plot, Harold and Burt meet with Tom Voze (Rami Malek) who is in fact Valerie’s brother.  Valerie is under the care of Tom for an apparent nervous condition.  

The three friends are reunited.  Tom suggests that Burt and Harold speak to Gil Dillenback (Robert De Niro) , a friend of Meekins.  While Burt contacts Dillenback, Harold and Valerie come across hitman Tarim Milfax (Timothy Olyphant) at Valerie’s house.  They follow him to a sterilization clinic owned by a mysterious organization called Committee of the Five.  From there, the trio uncover a conspiracy to overthrow the American government.

 

Amsterdam can be a confusing movie. There are different pieces to the story.  Police officers, assassins and secret agents come in and out of the narrative and I found it challenging to tell the difference between them at time.  At 2 hours and 14 minutes,  Amsterdam was long as well.  

The movie does succeed in building a world that you want to immerse yourself in.  Through a combination of visual effects, set design, costume and cinematography Amsterdam creates a very authentic, detailed depiction of early 20th century New York City.

Christian Bale is great in the lead role as Burt.  Although I couldn’t help but associate his particular New York accent with Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy, a somewhat cartoonish film adaptation of the comic serial.

I think David O Russell is trying to tell an endearing tale of friendship between the three main characters Burt, Valerie and Harold.  In a way he succeeds.  The mystery component to Amsterdam however lacked heavy stakes and was not very compelling.  Also, David O Russell’s patented, unique brand of humor was non-existent in this film.  

(L-R): Michael Shannon as Henry Norcross, Mike Myers as Paul Canterbury, Christian Bale as Burt Berendsen, Chris Rock as Milton King, and Robert De Niro as General Gil Dillenbeck in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace; SMPSP. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

 

Black people have opportunity in Amsterdam which is refreshing and, I believe, less a fiction and more historically accurate to 1930s New York City.  Chris Rock plays an army veteran and friend to Burt and Harold.  While Harold himself is a lawyer.  There is also discrimination.  An interracial romance between Burt and Valerie is considered taboo if not illegal.  “We can’t be together in this country,” Valerie says midway through the film.  

Rounding out the cast are supporting characters played by Anya Taylor Joy, Mike Myers and Michael Shannon who all deliver grade A performances.  Timothy Olyphant also plays a particularly scary looking hitman.  

There’s been some criticism of the film since its release.  Amsterdam preaches values such as love and equality while director Russell has long been known for his violent outbursts and abusive behavior on set.  It’s been argued the filmmaker is delusional and hypocritical in his attempt to make something so at odds with his own real-life treatment of industry peers.  

 

While I’m against many of the actions Russell has been accused of committing on his productions, I do feel he makes interesting adult-oriented films that deserve if not require second and third viewings.  Perhaps I will make the time for that.  After my first watch, however, I have to say Amsterdam lost me, leaving me less curious for the story and more disoriented by its meandering plot and one-too-many characters.