Every star all at once. David O. Russel’s Amsterdam makes no secret that it’s a stunt cast picture. Movies featuring an A-list cast of vets and newcomers have been O. Russel’s usual forte. To my surprise, the long list of actors doesn’t hinder the film’s structure which follows the path of a throuple.
During the First World War, Doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) and Harold Woodman (John David Washington) spend their time recuperating from mortal wounds in a veteran hospital in France. Their nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), goes above and beyond the call of duty to treat both men, entangling them on a romantic stay in Amsterdam. During their time, the three vow to make an inseparable pact. Unfortunately, the pact only lasts for a short while before breaking contact for ten years. When going their separate ways, things aren’t as rosy as they were in Amsterdam, which Valerie told Burt and Harold is as good as it’s going to get. When meeting up again with Valerie, things changed for the worst. Burt and Harold are framed for murder, and Valerie has been placed on house arrest to ease her epilepsy. However, Valerie had no prior stroke history to prove she’s epileptic.
Reuniting under unfortunate circumstances, Burt and Harold work to get to the bottom of who framed them with the help of Valerie. It turns out the entire murder incident is part of a massive cover-up that could change the course of the world. If all this sounds like a plot for yet another far-fetched conspiracy theory movie, then don’t be so fooled.
According to the film’s promotions, most of what happened is fact. Who better to trust someone on their word than David O. Russell? Despite the ending matching footage read line by line from Robert De Niro’s character to his real-life counterpart, I can’t help but call bluff on that tag. Certainly, the big reveal of who framed our heroes is accurate, but I’m not sure if the where and when isn’t partially fabricated.
As pure fiction, Amsterdam is an enjoyable ensemble that doesn’t get overcrowded. Christian Bale may be one of the finest actors of this generation. I’ve practically erased Thor: Love and Thunder from my mind. The only thing I remember was Gorr the God Butcher. Maybe that was thanks partly to the gory makeup department for a Disney film applied to Mr. Bale. Nevertheless, I was sold on every word Bale delivers, making him stand above the usual MCU guest spots.
Like Gorr, the makeup department does a ton of work on Bale. Bert Berdensen is a character who’s damaged by war. Burt’s missing an eyeball with shrapnel removed from his back, creating a significant deal of prosthetics to be added to Bale. What separates Christian Bale from the Jared Letos of the world is Bale’s reliance on being a character through method acting instead of acting through the makeup and wardrobe. When Bale is on screen, you lean into what he says since he not only recites his lines but is actively listening to other characters speak theirs.
O. Russell knows what he’s doing when casting Bale as the top man in Amsterdam. The guy’s performance is always a grand slam making him the best choice to lead the film’s narrative. Not the same can be said of the rest of the cast, who cannot perform on his caliber level. If John David Washington were the protagonist of Amsterdam, I probably would have been bored throughout the picture. JWD doesn’t have the gravitas his old man did. However, Margot Robbie’s character could have made for an exciting story. Valery being lied to about her health could have been a tragic tale that turns triumphant. Think of it as a happy Spencer.
The side characters outside the throuple have varying exaggerated performances that play more like SNL characters than serious actors. When Austin Powers himself, Mike Myers, is doing an elongated English accent, I expected Myers to shout “yeah baby” to the camera. Rami Malick combines Freddy Mercury and his James Bond villain into one role. Malick knows he can be creepy yet funny at the same time. However, he sounds like he’s playing a caricature instead of a person.
Moving at a consistent pace, Amsterdam is a charming film from beginning to end that happens to be directed by an abuser. After his entire I Heart Huckabees drama, I was hoping that O. Russell changed his tune. Seeing how often he had a returning cast of celebrities post Silver Lining’s Playbook, I wished for a glimmer of reform. Sadly, if the rumors about O. Russell are true, then David O. Russell is beyond the point of return for redemption.
Amsterdam ends with a message about love triumphing over hate. It’s about how love averted an international catastrophe. Without love, the world will engulf itself in chaso more than it already does. Even if David O. Russell doesn’t practice what he preaches, it’s important to be honest honest with one self. I don’t like David O. Russell as a person. But I like his movies (including this one). Is it one of his best? No, but it doesn’t have to be. With a colorful cast of characters and structure that ticks along at a grand pace, Amsterdam is a flick that shouldn’t be taken too seriously as a true story or an Oscar contender.