- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS Three close friends become involved in murder, conspiracy to bring down the US government.
COMEDY-DRAMA US #AMSTERDAM
Starring Margot Robbie, Christian Bale
David O. Russell knows how to make star-studded epics. Think SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK or AMERICAN HUSTLE. His latest, AMSTERDAM, is no different. There are at least 4 Oscars, another 9 nominations plus fistfuls of Emmys among the galaxy of performers. That’s a lot of star wattage and while that many known names is often overwhelming, here it’s part of the fun. ‘Who’s turning up this time?’ And it’s absolutely true that this time-shifting, satirical epic is, among many things, a lot of fun.
Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a doctor sent to fight in the Great War because his wife’s socialite family believe a little duty will improve his standing. Harold Woodman (John David Washington) is a solider who refused to let military racism prevent him from fighting. Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) is the nurse who patched the two of them up when bombs nearly tore them apart. A friendship is forged in adversity and polished in post-war Amsterdam.
Forward a decade. Burt and Harold are back in the US where they witness the brutal killing of a woman whose decorated father is also mysteriously dead. The pair are framed for her murder and in a convoluted effort to clear their name, discover the now-missing Valerie and (cue satire) uncover a corporate plot to reshape government and dismantle democracy. If some of this sounds familiar it’s meant to. Not only are there resounding echoes from the last ten years in American politics, but as Russell tells us up front, a lot of this actually happened.
AMSTERDAM is a busy film with a lot going on in a lot of places with a lot of people. To Russell’s credit, it’s one that generally makes sense because he takes the time to hit pause (one of his signature ticks) and explain what’s just happened. And because there’s so much to explain, he does this a lot. So much so that the movie begins to feel like a long-form TV show with the ad breaks edited out. This soon drags on the story’s pacing, giving it the momentum of a taxi-driver who can’t decide between using the accelerator or the brake. By the end of the journey you’re left feeling a little queasy by what has turned from a straight-forward (ish) story into something much, much messier.
AMSTERDAM is the kind of film you want to like a lot more than you actually do. The seductive production is bathed in sumptuous colour. Bale, Washington and Robbie throw everything at their effortlessly likeable characters and are ably supported by an extraordinary cast, especially Remi Malek and Anna Taylor Joy as Valerie’s slimy brother and his repulsively bigoted wife. The story’s satirical base is compelling, its over-arching themes appealing and relevant. And then there’s the fun, absurdist storytelling. Yet Russell’s over-burdened narrative forces so much exposition from a story that is wildly convoluted that scene by scene our interest slips away. By the last act you may find yourself simply willing it to finish; the point has been made, we’ve got the jokes, it’s time to go home. And yet it rolls on and on, like an intercontinental flight to Amsterdam that doesn’t know how to land.