The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - AMSTERDAM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - AMSTERDAM

amsterdam review
In 1933 New York, three friends find themselves at the centre of a political conspiracy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David O.Russell

Starring: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro

amsterdam poster

David O. Russell's Amsterdam opens with a title card that informs us "A lot of this really happened." Roughly 15 minutes later we get a freeze frame as a narrator intones something along the lines of "You're probably wondering how I got myself in this situation…" Yes, it's not the most original movie, but it does deal with a dark period of American history that has been largely glossed over, though to elaborate would probably lead to accusations of "Spoilers!!!" against this writer.

amsterdam review

The year is 1933 and the aforementioned narrator is Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), a former military doctor who now runs a struggling New York practice where he treats wounded veterans. During World War One, Burt was assigned to a special Dirty Dozen-esque unit comprised of African-American soldiers, one of whom, Harold Woodsman (John David Washington), is now a lawyer committed to representing veterans. When Burt and Harold's old squadron leader dies in mysterious circumstances, the latter asks the former to perform an autopsy. Digging around in the man's innards, Burt finds signs of poisoning. When the dead man's daughter (Taylor Swift) is run over on a New York street, Burt and Harold are blamed and go on the run, hoping to find the truth and clear their names.

What does all this New York business have to do with the titular European capital? Well, as detailed in a lengthy flashback, Burt and Harold found themselves in a Belgian hospital during the war, with the former losing an eye and having it replaced by a glass stand-in. There they met and fell for the charms of Valerie (Margot Robbie), an American socialite who left home for European adventures. Discharging the two men, Valerie took them to live with her in Amsterdam, where they enjoyed a relationship that hints at a ménage a trios, but this being a mainstream Hollywood movie, it's all very chaste. Had it not been for some more of Burt's lazily written narration, you'd never know that Harold and Valerie were an item, because this being a mainstream Hollywood movie, there's a reluctance to show a black man and a white woman enjoying each other's physical company. Back in 1933, Burt and Harold run into Valerie, whom they had long ago lost contact with, and the hijinks begin.

amsterdam review

Except there aren't really any hijinks to speak of. For a movie that presents itself as a zippy caper, Amsterdam is tediously sluggish. Russell's overwritten script relies almost entirely on dialogue for its plot developments, with scene after scene of our lead trio listening to various characters explaining the plot. The various characters they run into are presented visually as escapees from a 1930s screwball comedy, but the leaden, functional dialogue never reflects that aesthetic. Only Mike Myers, playing a stuffy British spy, seems to understand what sort of movie he's acting in. I can't say I've been a fan of his brand of gurning comedy down the years, but he really is very good here, elevating the movie every time he appears on screen by humanising a character written as a stereotype.

If Mike Myers is the best thing about your film, well that's not a great sign, is it? Especially when you have a cast stacked with the likes of Robbie, Bale, Washington, Robert De Niro, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Shannon and Andrea Riseborough. It's the central trio that disappoint the most, for despite how much the movie tells us they share this loving bond, there's a complete lack of chemistry between the three performers, all of whom come across like they're acting in different movies. Bale is basically doing a comedic Peter Falk impersonation, Washington is so deadpan that he's almost sleepwalking through the movie, while Robbie is overly reliant on her girlish charm. The dynamic isn't so much Jules et Jim as dull and dim.

amsterdam review

[Spoiler] It's eventually revealed that our heroes have gotten themselves caught up in what came to be known as the Business Plot, a conspiracy to overthrow President Roosevelt and install a government sympathetic to Hitler and Mussolini. It all culminates in De Niro, playing a fictional version of a real life general who helped to expose the plot, delivering a Great Dictator-esque speech that seems to take forever to say little more than "Nazis aren't nice." It all comes off as a cringey piece of Hollywood sermonising, but it ironically comes in a movie that constantly uses a character's disability as a punchline, and one which doesn't have the balls to embrace the inter-racial relationship at its centre. [Spoiler ends]

 is in UK/ROI cinemas from October 7th.

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