‘Amsterdam’ Review: Big on Names, Low on Fun

If I had a dollar for every time a character says “Amsterdam” in this film, I could bring my college loan debt down to zero.

“Amsterdam” marks David O. Russell’s return to filmmaking after a seven-year hiatus, and follows three friends (Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington) in 1933 New York City who get caught up in a conspiracy. Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro round out the ensemble cast.

The trailers for this film didn’t do too much to excite me, since despite playing ahead of most every film the last three months I had little idea what the actual premise was. Having now seen the film, I can say what the plot is with only a bit more clarity, because although it features a star-studded cast and proven director, “Amsterdam” is a messy, surprisingly boring film.

Christian Bale, fresh off getting his Marvel money for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” is always good. No matter the material or overall quality of the film he is in, Bale has a knack for giving his all. He is one of the only good performances here, playing a doctor who lost his eye in World War I. Bale stutters, murmurs, and has a warm sense about him, though there is only so much he can do with the paper-thin characterization Russell has provided him (he is given a love interest that goes absolutely nowhere in an attempt to flesh out his “desire to not be alone,” or something).

Every other person here turns in a wildly inconsistent performance, a thing Russell has a knack for getting out of even the most talented actors. Margot Robbie’s character feels like an afterthought and John David Washington simply seems uninterested in being there. Other big names pop up here and there in extended cameos, from Robert De Niro to Mike Meyers, and while they add some gravitas, they are there as a friend of the director at best, an easy two-day paycheck at worst. The best performance, shockingly, comes from Taylor Swift as the distraught daughter of a recently-deceased Senator.

The full scope of the story doesn’t come into focus until the final act of the film, when new plot points are vomited out in an attempt to salvage any possible interest the audience may still have in the film (it won’t be much). I can’t help but feel that a better director like Martin Scorsese could have weaved an exciting web out of this source material, and it was clear David O. Russell (whether on purpose or simply out of reflex) was trying to replicate some of the “Goodfellas” or “Irishman” magic, with in-character narration, lush period piece excess, and the impacts of desire and greed on society.

“Amsterdam” has several interesting bits and my audience chuckled at a few lines of dialogue, but at the end of the day it is not worth your money or time (especially at 134 meandering minutes). There are better conspiracy films, better ensemble pieces, and better movies playing in theaters right now, and as the star power of a cast means less and less with each passing year, there is little reason to book this trip.

Critics Rating: 4/10

20th Century Studios

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