‘Amsterdam’ offers plenty of star power but uses a flawed satirical playbook
“Amsterdam” certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of ambition, and the star-studded cast merely adds to that sense of grandeur.
Yet writer-director David O. Russell has assembled them in the service of a disjointed story and a movie that’s too precious for its own good, wrapping his mix of fact and fantasy in a fable that, with its warnings about fascism, simultaneously seeks to feel urgent in the here and now.
Russell’s resume, which includes “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook” explains the gaudy lineup of talent at his disposal, among them Taylor Swift in what amounts to a cameo. If the singer is committed to pursue acting she certainly keeps surrounding herself with the best, and this time she didn’t have to wear a cat suit.
Featuring shifting narrators, starting in the middle and flashing back to the past, Russell has actually crafted what at its core is a fundamentally simple story designed to push an overt message, before bogging it down in quirky supporting characters and unnecessary detours.
Burt (Christian Bale), a part-Jewish Park Avenue doctor whose in-laws disapprove of him, and Harold (John David Washington) bonded while serving together during World War I, where they met up with a free-spirited nurse, Valerie (Margot Robbie) who fell for Harold, forging a seemingly inseparable trio. Recovering from their war injuries, they took refuge in Amsterdam, a place where the world’s concerns – including those involving race – appeared to shrink away.
More than a decade later, Valerie is out of the picture when Burt and Harold are tasked by a mysterious woman (Swift) with investigating the murder of her father, a general under whom they served during the war. When the two become suspects in another murder, they segue into the plight of the classic reluctant Hitchcockian hero on the lam, trying to figure out what happened if only to save themselves.