Amsterdam – a star-packed rambling awards play that feels like a history lesson

Amsterdam – a star-packed rambling awards play that feels like a history lesson

Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington do their best to lift up a messy screenplay in this murder mystery that uses real history

SET in New York City during the early 1930s, Amsterdam has a lot on its mind: the power of friendship, love, destiny, race, class – and that’s before getting into the central murder mystery that drives the plot. Oh yeah, it’s also about fascist elements attempting to overthrow the United States government.

It’s the height of the Great Depression when we meet Burt Berendsen, played by a madcap Christian Bale, an unorthodox doctor who comes up with all sorts of off-the-wall solutions to treat his patients – many of whom are veterans of World War One, the conflict which gave Burt his distinctive glass eye.

The story proper starts when Burt’s best friend and fellow veteran Harold Woodman (a steady John David Washington) reaches out to him about their former regimental commander, who has died under mysterious circumstances. And so begins a roundabout murder mystery where Burt and Harold have to prove their innocence.

Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro round out the cast, as a rich couple who are not all they appear to be, and a forthright general who finds himself a target of fascists. – Pic courtesy of Disney

But first, the movie stops to jump back in time to when they met during the war in order to introduce us to the third main character, Valerie, in the form of an effervescently quirky Margot Robbie.

She’s the hospital nurse who treats their wounds, and the three of them quickly become best friends, having the time of their lives in Amsterdam, which becomes a byword for a time and place they want to return to, when they were happiest.

By this time we’re pretty far into the movie, but the ultimate shape of the plot has yet to take shape. It’s not uncommon for these types of films – noirish detective tales where the hero stumbles on a grand conspiracy – to unravel its mysteries over time, but the way Amsterdam gets sidetracked by its various talky digressions and verbose side characters makes it easy to lose focus.

This is also one of those movies where everyone is famous, to the point of distraction. Taylor Swift pops up. Chris Rock does his thing. Mike Myers vamps as a preening upper-class Brit. Some of it is funny enough, but the tonal shifts just add to the scatterbrained approach of the storytelling.

It feels like it’s halfway through the film when we finally meet General Gil Dillenbeck, played by an appropriately authoritative Robert De Niro, that the story comes together. A cabal of business elites, encouraged by the rise of fascism in Europe, want him to endorse a coup against the US government, knowing he holds great sway over disenfranchised veterans.

Mike Myers and Michael Shannon add their own energies to Amsterdam, playing mysterious characters that are not all they appear to be… (sensing a pattern?). – Pic courtesy of Disney

This part of the story is undeniably true, being based on something historically referred to as The Business Plot. And though it adds urgency to the narrative, it also makes the movie incredibly preachy.

It just smacks of a Hollywood elite being shaken by the rise of Trump in the last few years, and pouring his efforts into a well-intentioned though ultimately didactic parable of unity in the face of fascism.

Written and directed by David O. Russell, making his first film since 2015’s Joy, and whose projects have no difficulty in attracting star-studded casts – who often then get nominated if not outright win Oscars – Amsterdam lacks the drive of his previous work.

Films such as The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, Three Kings, possess a potent live wire energy that makes almost every scene come alive, a feeling that is missing here. Despite the sterling cinematography of three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, the solid acting across the board, and the well-accorded set design, there is an aimlessness here that makes Amsterdam less than the sum of its parts.

source – The Vibes

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