AMSTERDAM: 2 ½ STARS. “the film is definitely less than the sum of its parts.”
“Amsterdam,” a quirky new film starring John David Washington, Margot Robbie and Christian Bale and now playing in theatres, is a convoluted story fueled by everything from fascism and birding to murder and music. If there ever was an example of a film that could have benefitted from the KISS rule, Keep It Simple Silly, this is it.
The madcap tale begins in 1933 New York City. WWI vet Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), once a Park Avenue physician, he now runs a downtown clinic where he caters to the needs of soldiers who came back from the war broken and in pain.
When Berendsen and his best friend, fellow vet and lawyer Harold Woodsman (John David Washington), are hired by Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift), the daughter of their beloved commanding officer, to ascertain the cause of his death, they are drawn into a murder mystery involving secret organizations, ultra-rich industrialists and a crusty Marine played by Robert DeNiro.
In a flashback to the final days of WWI, we learn their backstory and meet Valerie (Margot Robbie), a nurse who treats their wounds, physically and mentally. As a trio, they swear allegiance to one another during an extended bohemian get-a-way in Amsterdam, a city that becomes a metaphor for freedom and friendship.
Reviewing “Amsterdam” stings. The production is first rate, from Academy Award nominated director David O. Russell, to the a-list cast to the ambitious script that attempts to link events of the past to today’s headlines. But, and this is what stings, the film is definitely less than the sum of its parts.
From the off-kilter tone, part screwball, part deadly serious, to the glacial pacing, which makes the already long two-hour-and-fifteen-minute running time seem much longer, and the script, which casts too wide a wide net in hope of catching something compelling, “Amsterdam” flails about, lost in its own ambition. This is the kind of story, it’s easy to imagine, the Coen Brothers could make look effortless, but Russell does not stick the landing.
He does, however, forward some lovely ideas about embracing kindness and the full experience of being alive, but even those are muddied by the inclusion of heavy-handed, and not particularly original, warnings about domestic terrorism and authoritarianism. Ideas get lost in a sea of exposition and narration, that not even these interesting actors can bring to life.
There may be an interesting story somewhere within “Amsterdam,” but it is hidden, lost in the movie’s epic ambitions.