David O. Russell’s return is a superficial period comedy
The problem with assembling a star-studded cast is the managing of egos, everyone wants to have a good and juicy role and thus won’t settle for simple bit parts. The array that David O. Russell has assembled in his newest film, makes one admire how big names were convinced to play near-cameo roles.
Amsterdam (2022) is a heavily fictionalized version of a true story. We follow a trio of friends, Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington), and nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie). The three met in the aftermath of World War I and escaped in the post-war chaos to the haven of Amsterdam. However, flashforward to 1933 when they’ve moved back to their boring lives in the United States, and they become embroiled in a murder mystery and a potential conspiracy.
Amsterdam is the first film from O. Russell in eight years, in the wait he’s become incredibly ambitious with the range of story he wants to tell. Amsterdam is jam-packed with different plot-threads and thematic elements; O. Russell, being unable to choose a clear path for his film ends up putting them all in. Sadly, amongst all the complexity and disparities, it can’t help hiding a rather bare-bones plot that, when seen with distance, feels almost lazy and childish. O. Russell tries to hide this rather bland narrative by throwing as many distractions on screen as possible, from the entrance of a new movie star in every other scene (Rami Malek! Mike Myers! Taylor Swift!), to a chronology that unnecessarily jumps back and forth in time to provide over-drawn character contexts.
O. Russell is able to bring about his skill in crafting individual scenes and his ability to construct a comedic scene remains intact. Along with the charm of his cast, O. Russell manufactures some ingeniously witty scenes, dragging inevitable chuckles from the crowd. Amongst the standouts of the dazzling cast, Bale, as always, brings 110% effort and it pays off, making him the most memorable aspect of the film. Everyone else has too little time to do much, appearing as mere glorified cameos, and thus not able to add much meat to the story and to their larger character narratives, leaving a superficial sheen of rather impressive production value, but poor depth.
Amsterdam ends with a rather preachy anti-fascism message that would have worked better in a more subtle and focused story. As it stands, O. Russell’s story is simply too disorganized and confused about what it wants to be, the flashy editing and cast don’t do enough to distract from the weaker elements. Thus, the fleeting comedic moments of Amsterdam sink away by the time you exit the theater due to the lack of a proper narrative structure.