To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Amsterdam is a historical conspiracy dramedy film written, directed, and produced by David O. Russell (Joy). Featuring 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, and Robert De Niro the film is loosely based on the Business Plot. The story follows three friends who are caught in the middle of a conspiracy while trying to solve the mysterious murder of a U.S. Senator.
In New York City, eccentric doctor and WWI veteran Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) helps other veterans by making them prosthetic limbs, braces, masks, and pain medication. His lawyer and fellow veteran Harold Woodsman (John David Washington) arrives at the office to tell Burt they received a special job offer. They are asked to perform an autopsy on Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), a U.S. senator who also served as the commander of their regiment in the war, at the behest of his daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift), who believes that her father was murdered. Burt reluctantly agrees to do the autopsy with the aid of a nurse named Irma St. Clair (Zoe Saldaña).
After it is discovered that Meekins had a significant amount of poison in his stomach; Burt and Irma agree that he was murdered. Burt and Harold head to meet with Elizabeth at a local diner to talk about the autopsy results, but she runs away. After telling them that a strange man warned her not to look into her father’s death, Elizabeth is pushed into traffic and run over by a truck. The hitman (Timothy Olyphant) subsequently frames Burt and Harold for her death and attempts to shoot them. As a ruckus ensues on the sidewalk the police arrive to arrest Burt and Harold who flee the scene.
Over the past few years, David O. Russell has only made specific types of films. The screenplays are typically written or partially written by him, there is usually an ensemble cast and the story is based on real persons and/or events. The film is normally released in late fall/early winter as awards season ramps up. This is the pre-pandemic model of a typical Oscar-bait movie. Lately, the only movies that have been making a lot of money in theaters are Summer blockbusters, superhero movies, and horror films. The era of the high-budget dramedy is waning fast even with such a talented cast.
What I love about Russell’s movies is that typically you walk out of the theater having learned something. I had no clue there was ever a plot to overthrow the president of the United States and install a dictator in his place. The story is a great plot for a film because as they say “Truth is stranger than fiction…” Russell also knows how to put together a great ensemble cast. Placing such talented acting powerhouses together on the screen is a great way to get people to come to your movie. All actors present a great to watch with not one outshining the other. The production design is great and so is Daniel Pemberton’s (Enola Holmes) score. All of this to say is what I expected from a film of this caliber.
While Russell’s attention to detail and witty humor is a delight. I feel he doesn’t know when to cut it short. The main issue with Amsterdam is that it’s a little too long and a bit unfocused. Some scenes should’ve been cut down to help the story flow more smoothly. The backstory to how Burt, Harold, and Valerie became friends is a prime example of what needed to be trimmed from the picture. Some plot lines are either underdeveloped or can be removed completely, namely the relationship that forms between Burt and Irma. The resolution to the story also feels a little underwhelming. We spend the entire time trying to figure out who had Meekins killed and why only for it to be someone we already knew. Lastly, the title is misleading as Amsterdam has little to do with the plot.
With such great acting and an interesting story, it’s a shame this isn’t a better movie. With a shorter runtime this could have been David O. Russell’s big comeback, but alas it’ll probably be known as one of his lesser films. I give Amsterdam a Solid 6.5/10. As someone who has edited videos before I know it can be hard deciding what should be cut out. I do think that Russell should try directing a limited series next. I think it would work out well for his career.