Stream or skip? +2023

David O. Russell returns Amsterdam (now available on HBO Max, but also available to rent or own on streaming services like Prime Video), a semi-historical comedy thriller with a mega-cast that does gigantic swings and almost puffs, but ends up being so different from so many things, you’re no different I like can. The fucking upsetting director who had quite a run with The fighter, silver linings Playbook and American hustle – three Best Director Oscar nominations, two Screenplay nominations – ended a seven-year hiatus in spectacular fashion with the cast of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers and Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough and Taylor Swift for a film that crashed and burned horribly at the box office and lost parent company Disney around $100 million. Oops. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out.


The essentials: MUCH OF THIS REALLY HAPPENED, says a title card, and don’t believe it. Fargo had a similar one, and we all know it was just effing on ours. Anyway, NEW YORK, 1933: Burt Berendsen (Bale) and Harold Woodman (Washington) have been close friends for 15 years. They met in France where they were fighting in the War to End All Wars as Burt championed black soldiers who were treated as inferior citizens by their superiors. Burt and Harold caught a lot of shrapnel and were dragged hand in hand to the infirmary, both bleeding profusely. Burt caught the worst – lost an eye, extensive facial scarring, a lacerated back, life in a back brace. A nurse named Valerie (Robbie) pulled trays full of jagged metals from her flesh and turned them into art. The metal, that is – sculptures, textured paintings, things like that. They quickly became friends and fled to Amsterdam, where they sang and danced together and Harold and Valerie fell in love.

It’s worth noting that I’m telling this story linearly because the 1918 stuff is flashback and it’s just easier that way. Anyway, Burt returned to New York to pursue his career as a doctor and to rejoin his wife Beatrice (Riseborough), a high society woman whose parents mock Burt for being half-Jewish. (He’s convinced they encouraged him to turn himself in in the hope that he would be killed.) Burt is dedicated to helping veterans with their ailments. He also did a few too many drugs. Meanwhile, Valerie disappeared one night, leaving Harold heartbroken; He returned to New York and earned his law degree. Which pretty much brings us to the important Malarkey plot here, where a young woman (Swift) hires Harold to represent her and Burt to help conduct an autopsy. Her father led her regiment in the war and she is convinced that his death was premature. But her death definitely is, as they stand right by her side as a depraved thug (Olyphant) shoves her under the wheels of a moving truck, blaming them. They scurry away.

Hang in there because the over-complexity of it all has only just begun. There’s a point where Burt says, “All right, all at once,” and that’s how the script is set up. Burt and Howard’s attempts to get out of the wheels of this conspiracy include the following: The reintroduction of Valerie, whose brother Tom (Malek) is a bird watcher, a man of a lot of money and influence, and a husband for a nicely put together insane ( Taylor Joy). Two detectives (Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola) are on the trail of Burt and Harold. A pair of secret agents (Myers and Shannon) posing as glass-eyed traders. The pathologist (Saldana) who could show Burt more genuine affection than his wife. And the highly decorated General Gil Dillenbeck (De Niro), who can help our protagonists get into the deeper cucumber they need to get into before they can get out again. Exactly how deep is this cucumber? As deep as cucumbers will, of course.

Which movies will it remind you of?: Amsterdam is about a different kind of American hustle and bustle, a topic that is more contemporary and peppered with a bit of Hitchcockian intrigue and dark humor. I also see it as a sister film – maybe more of a half sister – to Guillermo del Toro’s similarly ambitious (albeit more competent) noir nightmare alley.

Notable performance: Robbie’s character is a bit muddy around the edges – OK, Everyone The characters are muddy around the edges – but she makes the most of a few directly addressed midscreen shots in which she makes earnest claims that permeate some of the plot and thematic flourishes to keep us/her/anyone listening in mind to remember what is important here.

Memorable dialogue: An exchange between Burt and the general’s wife:

“You call your husband ‘General’?”

“Only on weekdays.”

“What do you call him at the weekend?”

“That is a very personal question.”

gender and skin: none.

Our opinion: The fact that Amsterdam is not unbearable seems like a small miracle. Is it as fun as we expect it to be? no Is it as exciting as it should be? no Does it take forever to get to the point? Yes, but it does get there eventually, and it’s a damn sharp end of a spear aimed at rich and powerful guys who interpret American values ​​through the lens of amoral capitalism. Based on the actual business plot – a fascist attempted US coup allegedly planned in 1933 by a secret group of businessmen – Russell weaves a madcap saga that falls short of the blissful absurdity of the Coen brothers and the gripping intrigue of Hitchcock. but instead ends on a tender, heartfelt note rooted in the friendship of Bale, Washington and Robbie’s characters: good times come and good times go, but there will always be camaraderie, warm memories, art, music and love.

In sorting through the clutter of this film, I believe Russell asserts that we should resort to such feelings when it seems the world around us is about to collapse and risk being engulfed by great evils of greed and prejudice, and raise your hand if this worries you in today’s world. If only he spent more time with the core trio enjoying moments of poignant chemistry when they aren’t sidetracked by impromptu characters and special guest stars, like America is the Love Boat and also Titanic and While It’s About to Sink , Burt, Harold and Valerie figure out their personal shit in a weird, snake-like, slightly clever way.

Bale and Robbie are at the heart of the film, the former hunched and odd and cartoonish but well-intentioned and lovable, and the latter displaying laser-like sincerity. As for the rest of the cast, well they don’t have enough to do, the material lacks the panache that allows them to indulge their talents and personalities and go over the top and remain unforgettable. Shannon, Malek, Taylor-Joy and the like add enough color and eccentricity that the film doesn’t feel like a waste of talent. There are points where Russell stops and Bale speaks from the off to clarify the unwieldy plot, and it’s welcome, thanks, even if it makes the road bumpy and bumpy. It’s hard not to appreciate Russell’s wide swings, the stubborn individuality of his style, and his return to more idiosyncratic tones after his dalliances with award-winning fare.

Our appeal: Stream it. Amsterdam is a sucker, for better or worse, but it’s not a dud.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more about his work below

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