Stars: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Andrea Riseborough, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Swift
Writer: David O. Russell
Director: David O. Russell
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Release Date: October 7, 2022
Writer/director David O. Russell likes riffing on history, large-scale and small. He took on the Gulf War in THREE KINGS (1999), a ‘70s FBI scheme and con artists in AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013), and Home Shopping Network staple Joy Mangano in JOY (2015).
Now Russell gives us his version of a 1930s international incident involving U.S. Major General Smedley Butler in AMSTERDAM.
AMSTERDAM is fictionalized enough that Gen. Butler is here named Gen. Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro); he’s also a supporting character who doesn’t show up until about halfway through the film.
Instead, AMSTERDAM focuses on New Yorker, surgeon and WWI veteran Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), and his two best friends, fellow veteran Harold Woodman (John David Washington) and Army nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie).
As we see in flashbacks, the trio met in France. Burt is put in command of Harold’s unit. After both men come under enemy fire, they are patched up by Valerie, albeit they are left heavily scarred. Burt loses an eye.
When the war ends, the three go off to Amsterdam together. They are blissfully happy there for several years. Harold and Valerie are a couple; Burt is not the least bit jealous.
But Burt has a wife (Andrea Riseborough) back in New York, and by 1921, her horrible parents notwithstanding, he feels obligated to return to her. The fellowship is broken, and Valerie and Harold head Stateside shortly thereafter.
In 1933, Burt and Harold are surprised to be contacted by Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift), the daughter of the well-liked general they served under. Liz wants our heroes to investigate the recent death of her father, which she thinks is suspicious.
One very graphic autopsy later, it seems Liz is right. But who would kill Gen. Meekins? Before Burt and Harold can begin to answer that question, they are framed for murder. Now they’ve got to figure out what’s going on in order to clear their names.
This is where the history takes hold. Although Burt, Harold, Valerie and even Gen. Dillenbeck are all invented, parallels to contemporary events make the big picture dismayingly plausible.
The issue here is tone. AMSTERDAM is half-playful, half-serious. It sometimes isn’t as funny as it’s trying to be in the lighter sections, and occasionally bypasses depth and hits preachy when it has something to say. This makes for a bit of a bumpy ride, though it’s more or less entertaining.
Filmmaker Russell certainly hits home the horrors of war, with both Burt and Harold coping with lasting damage, and Burt treating fellow veterans who have suffered similar wounds. This is an instance where images are indeed worth a thousand words.
Viewers (at least those of a certain age) may wonder at times if Bale is putting forth his best Peter Falk-as-Columbo. Between the accent, the glass eye, and the way Burt asks questions, it’s hard not to make the association. That said, Bale has conviction and warmth.
Washington likewise is solid and likable as the principled Harold, and Robbie finds a way to make Valerie both ideal and personable. De Niro exudes power and certainty. Riseborough has the right period attitude as Burt’s ambivalent spouse, and Swift acquits herself well as a classic ‘30s dame in distress.
The class-act supporting cast includes Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, and Timothy Olyphant.
Judy Becker’s production design is impressive, ornate, exotic, or shabby as needed. The realistic-looking makeup for war’s effects are educational. However, the autopsy (which isn’t making a statement) may be a bit gruesome for squeamish viewers.
AMSTERDAM isn’t as well-balanced as THREE KINGS or AMERICAN HUSTLE. It’s a little too carried away with its fable aspects, perhaps because it’s set almost a century ago. Still, it has its charms, is great to look at, and a little unnerving if one researches the story behind it.
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Article: Movie Review: AMSTERDAM