In the 1930s, three friends are framed for a murder and uncover one of the most outrageous plots in American history. Digital editor Dan Jensen shares his thoughts on a film that could have been amazing.
IT CAN BE TRULY said that all that glitters is not gold. Take the case of Amsterdam, the new film by writer/director David O Russell. On the outside, it looks pretty with one of the biggest casts of incredibly talented actors to ever hit the screen, lavish production design and a plot based on an alleged political conspiracy to overthrow President Roosevelt.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Amsterdam tells the story of three friends: a doctor played by Christian Bale, a lawyer played by John David Washington and an eccentric nurse played by Margot Robbie. Having met during the events of World War I, the trio later becomes caught up in the murder of a prominent senator and his daughter, which uncovers a conspiracy to overthrow the President and replace him with a puppet dictator to usher in a fascist regime in America.
Aside from the three great leads, the film also stars Robert De Niro, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Rami Malek, Timothy Olyphant and even Taylor Swift. And every performer brings their A-game to the table, most notably Bale and Robbie who absolutely shine. Had the film been cast with inferior talent, it may have been a complete disaster as it’s the performances that end up being the film’s only real saving grace.
Most of the film is set in 1933 and while the overall look of it comes across as authentic at first glance, despite the best efforts of the design team, everything just looks too new to be completely believable. Cars and clothing, even the architecture of the sets, all look like they were built for a movie rather than transporting the audience back in time.
The characters in the film are interesting enough to maintain the viewer’s interest for most of the 134-minute run time, but sadly are given some cruelly banal dialogue which makes Amsterdam a struggle to get through at times. Mike Myers takes on yet another British persona and is almost unrecognisable as a blue-eyed blonde. Partnered with Michael Shannon, the pair play a couple of spies in the intelligence community and are a joy to watch — until you realise the characters don’t actually have anything to say of any great interest.
Christian Bale’s character, Burt, is a doctor with a glass eye that is continually being knocked out of its socket throughout the story, especially whenever he passes out from taking his own homemade painkillers. Margot Robbie’s character, Valerie, is a nurse who crafts bizarre art out of shrapnel removed from war victims. It’s not that the characters aren’t well designed, it’s just that they sadly don’t have much to do or say to make the story remotely compelling.
Aside from the tedious dialogue slowing things down, there are too many parts of the plot working at once, making for a rather convoluted narrative. The viewer really needs to concentrate on who is doing what and it’s easy to lose focus. There are times when you’re genuinely wondering whether to praise the film for the acting and characterisation or tune out because they’ve been talking for far too long and you just want to get to the next scene.
Finally, the conclusion of Amsterdam shoehorns in a supposed theme that Russell was trying to convey all along — a message about friendship and choosing who we love or something. There were clues all along of what he was aiming to explore but unfortunately, the threads become lost among too many subplots and unnecessary self-indulgent moments.
It’s a shame because Amsterdam could have been a triumph. With one of the greatest casts to hit the silver screen this year, a period setting that almost works and some enjoyable characters (with some terrific make-up artistry rendering some actors beyond recognition — good luck spotting Timothy Olyphant!), the film could have reached great heights. But sadly, all the positives are wasted on something that ends up being a mess of a film that will be soon forgotten once the lights come back on in the cinema.
Amsterdam is now showing in cinemas across the country.
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