How could a film with an accomplished writer and director (David O. Russell), a compelling true story, a stellar ensemble cast, and an elite list of talent behind the camera as well as in front of it be such a complete and utter mess? It has everything going for it, so why doesn’t the movie work?
Set in 1933, the period film tells the story of three friends, doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), and attorney Harold Woodman (John David Washington), from their original meeting in Amsterdam in the 1910s to their present day situation: being falsely accused of murder. After making a pact decades earlier to stick together no matter what, the trio decide to investigate the crime and seek the real truth. In the process, they uncover a (mostly) true scheme that is ripped straight from American history books.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the movie goes wrong, but it does so swiftly and thoroughly. I suppose you could say the first compelling scene of the film is the opening title card that reads, “A lot of this really happened.” It’s a great hook, but it’s mostly downhill from there.
The story is absorbing with its twists and turns, but Russell can’t seem to focus on the better part of his script. The story is a tale of friendship, a murder mystery, a political story with in-your-face social commentary, and a goofy caper all at once. There’s too much going on, so everything gets lost among the commotion.
Here’s just how overstuffed this project is: there are at least a dozen supporting cameos. By doing this, Russell created a situation where it became more fun to be on the lookout for the next famous person to show up onscreen than it was to become absorbed in the actual plot or artistry of the film.
The actors aren’t the problem here. Robbie, Washington, and Bale carry the film on their shoulders, doing the best they can with weakly-written characters. Regardless of how you feel about this particular performance, Bale further proves that he’s a versatile actor and can do anything. While sure to be divisive, you can’t say he doesn’t thoroughly become his character.
Even with all this talent, nothing ever comes together in a cohesive way. It’s truly surprising that none of this works, and “Amsterdam” is a highly pedigreed film that’s a floundering misfire.