"Amsterdam" stars Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro. Released on October 7, 2022, the film has three friends becoming the prime suspects in a murder mystery.
The film is written and directed by David O. Russell, who also directed films such as "Three Kings", "The Fighter", "American Hustle", and "Joy". Anything can happen in the 1930s, especially when it involves a conspiracy in the political world. Seven years after his previous project landed him in the awards circle, David O. Russell is back in the director's chair to bring us another star-studded movie to sink our teeth into amid the horror releases. Regardless of how controversial he is, Russell knows how to make some intriguing movies, even though some of them weren't as great as others. Unfortunately for me, the only films I've seen from him so far are "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Joy", and from what I can remember, I seem to have enjoyed "Silver Linings" more than "Joy". That is one of the reasons why I was looking forward to the film despite its surprisingly mediocre reviews. The other reason is the amount of big talent it collected. Seriously, how could you resist a movie that offers a huge and well-known cast? This is something that would definitely get this year's awards season started on the right foot, but is it enough to get audiences involved in a kooky mystery like this? Let's find out.
The story takes place in the 1930s and centers on a trio of friends who met each other during World War I. Burt Berendsen (Bale) is a doctor with a prosthetic eye. Valerie Voze (Robbie) is a nurse who caters to injured soldiers, and Harold Woodsman (Washington) is a lawyer. Years after going their separate ways, Burt and Harold are caught in a troubling situation when US Senator Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) was mysteriously murdered during an election. When they're falsely accused of murdering Meekins' daughter Elizabeth (Swift), Burt, Valerie, and Harold reunite to find the person responsible and clear their names. Along the way, they discover that there's more to the mystery than they realized.
The movie is supposedly based on the Business Plot, a political conspiracy to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt's government in 1933. While it isn't the exact representation of the conspiracy, the movie does take some inspiration from this bizarre theory. The primary example of this is Robert De Niro's character, General Gil Dillenbeck, who's based on Major General Smedley Butler, who testified under oath on the revelations. But I'm sure you don't care about that since I'm a movie reviewer, not a history buff. However, it doesn't hurt me to learn a thing or two about the historical events.
That alone may gather some interest from those familiar with the political process, especially in the 1930s. However, it also has the task of luring in everyone else with its mystery and upbeat style. With a filmmaker like Russell and an all-star cast, this should be an easy task for "Amsterdam" to accomplish. Sadly, that doesn't appear to be the case. While it has its moments regarding its stunning style and the cast, the film was surprisingly not as enticing as it wanted itself to be.
Do you ever have the feeling of wanting to pay attention to an interesting topic yet struggle to focus due to the overabundance of detail that goes along with it? That's how I describe my experience watching "Amsterdam". It's never dull, but for something that's over two hours long, it shows that too many things stuffed into a single package can cause an unfortunate mess. The story focuses on a murder mystery that leads to a political conspiracy. However, it's also classified as an oddball comedy-drama about three friends keeping their friendship intact after one of their own left the group. Regarding the screenplay, David O. Russell attempts to combine those elements with its antifascism commentary, but it just doesn't come together the way he thought he would. His filmmaking style was passable despite some issues with the tone and humor, but his script surprisingly lacked the oddness and ambition it's looking for. It also doesn't help that the pacing was a bit inconsistent. There were moments when the movie chugged along smoothly, and then it had trouble keeping up afterwards.
With the narrative being the weakest part of "Amsterdam", it only had to rely on everything else to make itself worth watching at least once or twice. Thankfully, the film managed to provide enough qualities in those aspects to make itself somehow enjoyable. One of them is the star-studded cast. You have many familiar faces like Bale, Washington, Rock, and even De Niro. The list is enormous, but how were the performances? That's the big question everyone was wondering, including myself. Honestly, they all did very well in their roles. The highlights of the cast were the main three stars: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. These actors delivered plenty of charm in their chemistry to elevate the movie's problematic narrative flow. Chris Rock and Anya Taylor-Joy were also enjoyable as Milton King and Libby Voze, Valerie's sister, respectively. Then, of course, there's also Robert De Niro as Gil Dillenbeck, who's as likable as ever despite his tiny amount of screen time.
Another aspect I liked was the film's representation of the 1930s. "Amsterdam" is a stunningly remarkable film that fully transports me to a specific part of history. The production design captures the look and feel of 1930s New York, and the costumes and makeup worked wonders in transforming some of the actors into their characters, mainly Christian Bale. This is another movie that may get more attention for its production achievements than the overall narrative during awards season. It may not have something special in its story that'll blow my mind, but it usually compensates for it with the world created for the film. It's something that I can't deny when reviewing movies like this.
Overall, "Amsterdam" is a dazzling trip through the 1930s that isn't as consistently engaging as the mystery it presents. There were a few enjoyable moments regarding its whimsical style, but they weren't enough to overcome the overabundant plot and flawed tone. It's another scenario where a movie has a talented filmmaker and a bunch of recognizable stars to coincide with its fun concept but fails to combine them effectively to make a neat package. The actors were entertaining, and the production design was top-notch regarding the settings and costumes. Unfortunately, the screenplay, weak humor, and problematic pacing resulted in the film being subpar compared to Russell's previous works. If you like some of its actors and the mystery genre, you might enjoy it a bit more than I did. Otherwise, there's not much else to this mediocre star-studded movie that's worth remembering.