Amsterdam Synopsis: In the 1930s, three friends—a doctor, a nurse, and an attorney—witness a murder, become suspects themselves and uncover one of the most outrageous plots in North American history.
When two friends and war veterans are accused of murdering a high-profile socialite, the duo reunites with a long-long lost acquaintance from their war days to solve the case in Amsterdam. The latest from Oscar-nominated auteur David O. Russell attempts an intriguing blend of screwball farce and character-building amidst a climate of conflict in the late 1930s.
O. Russell's return to the camera after 2015's Joy also comes with a painful reminder of the years of abuse allegations following the Hollywood talent's trail (some he's admitted to, while others were caught on video). It's always a necessary ethical debate on the relationship between a troubling yet talented artist and their creative mediums, but interested viewers likely won't have to endure that talk here. Amsterdam is a highly-dysfunctional and contrived farce stuck in a constant state of flatlining.
Few movies appear quite as fragmented in their opening frames as Amsterdam does. From the onset, O. Russell attempts an intriguing genre fusion in his marriage of comedy and underlying tragedy occurring between our central trio. Unfortunately, the modern filmmaker possesses little understanding of old-school sensibilities. His screenplay modulates between moments of overwritten banter and clunky characterization that rarely feels genuine.
There's underlying promise in what Amsterdam wants to say about its three characters, each disenfranchised by the world around them, who take arms against callous social elites - but the final product offers little in terms of nuanced ideas. The film instead portrays an uninteresting mystery that rarely picks up momentum before reaching its floundering conclusion.
O. Russell's direction feels similarly listless. His trademark techniques, like intimate framing choices and free-flowing camera movements, never radiate the same emotional impact as his previous work. Instead, the director feels like he's grasping at straws throughout, with his busy energy behind the camera struggling to articulate purpose. His handling of dissident tonal sensibilities also never quite connects as neither the farcical comedy nor evolving drama display the deft voice required.
Perhaps the only thing more baffling than Amsterdam itself is the star-studded cast O. Russell assembled here. Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robie, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, Zoe Saldana, Robert DeNiro, and even Taylor Swift lend their talents to this star-studded romp (hip-hop artists Drake and Future also produced the film). Aside from the eccentric charisma of Bale's central character, the performances range from being underutilized to flat-out bizarre. I don't know why this cast would want to sign up for an underbaked project, let alone one that's guided along by a man with a history of problematic behavior.
Amsterdam is just as ugly and devoid of appeal as the person shepherding this wayward project. Hopefully, this will be the last time a studio and talented cast waste their time with O. Russell.
Amsterdam is now playing in theaters.