From the mind of David O. Russell comes Amsterdam, a winding narrative and period piece set in the 1930s, loosely inspired by a true story. After three friends are framed for murder, they begin to uncover one of the most outrageous plots in American history.
I went into this mess expecting not to like it, but hoping to be surprised. David O. Russell’s filmography has never stood out to me – I’ve either disliked his movies or just been entirely uninterested in seeing them. Much like his 2013 film American Hustle, Amsterdam is very dialogue-heavy, with almost every scene flooded with lengthy conversations that are riddled with nonsense. The relentless dialogue becomes unbearable at points, with 80% of what’s being said going in one ear and out the other. Couple David O. Russell’s over-reliance on word-vomit dialogue with an oddly-structured narrative and a political setting I have zero interest in, and you have yourself a recipe for complete boredom. At just over two hours, this was a tough pill to swallow, forcing me to really dig in and just hope things got better. Spoiler alert… they didn’t.
Since the story is so reliant on the dialogue, and I couldn’t absorb most of it, the mystery at hand never became engaging. There was a 15-minute section where I started to follow what was going on, almost becoming intrigued. But that was right before being thrust back into a hodgepodge of sprawling narratives and characters I cared little about. The structure is very chaotic – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film that felt like it moved along too fast, while also dragging agonisingly slow. I can put it down to this – fast dialogue, slow narrative – a combination that made this an absolute chore to get through. This actually reminded me of Adam McKay’s The Big Short, another drama with an abundance of dialogue-heavy scenes that result in a slog of a story.
When it comes to general audiences, the big draw here is the overabundance of big-name stars, some of whom stick around to the end and some of whom make brief five-minute appearances. A big cast like this is nothing if they can’t each bring anything to liven up the mood. The only actor in the entire ensemble who actually elevates the story is Christian Bale. As much as I disliked the narrative, Christian Bale lit up the screen with a masterclass of acting. We know of his ability to be a chameleon and vanish into his roles, and this is no different. He brings out the quirky nature of his character, while showing off his intelligence and moments of vulnerability really well. It’s a shame this performance is in such a subpar film, since I’d definitely throw a Best Actor nomination his way at the upcoming Academy Awards.
None of the rest of the ensemble made much of an impact. It’s not enough to be like “hey, that’s ___”, they need to leave their mark on the narrative… and not even the likes of Margot Robbie and John David Washington could do that. To be fair, they’re fine in their respective scenes, it’s just the dry dialogue that doesn’t allow their personalities to really shine. Sure, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon and many many more big names make appearances, but they don’t add anything to the enjoyment factor – only giving the marketing team an excuse to have their names on the poster.
Production-wise I have no quarrels with the film – the set design is great and it’s well put together from a purely visual standpoint. It’s not the type of movie or setting which really draws you in with its environments, causing much of it to go unnoticed, but the fact that it’s there shows there was some creative effort floating around. This case of style over substance does Amsterdam absolutely no favours.
In the end, despite the odds going against it, Amsterdam is a drama that I hoped to enjoy. Unfortunately, the agonising weight of dialogue-heavy sequences was too much to bear. David O. Russell’s style of filmmaking and storytelling is an acquired taste, one I find especially bloated and overbearing in this film. Christian Bale does his utmost to carry the weight of the entire narrative on his shoulders, and is fantastic. Despite how good he is in here, I don’t think this is worth the price of admission or worth streaming if you have anything else to watch. Unless of course you love David O. Russell’s filmography, in which case you might gain something from this dull experience.