Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and Taylor Swift are just a few of the mega-stars trying to survive a frenzied comedy about fascism in America.
A star-studded new historical comedy that’s amusing at best, harmful at worst, and frantically insisting on its own negligible entertainment value at all times as it strives to find beauty in life’s mad tapestry? It’s true: David O. Russell is back. And while the unstable director’s recent work (“Joy,” “American Hustle”) has been overwhelming enough to dampen enthusiasm for this single-handed comeback — even without Russell’s various personal controversies — it doesn’t really help. the things his first movie in seven years is a grossly over-the-top plea to “protect kindness” that sounds just as forced and hollow as you might expect someone with such a pronounced reputation to kill himself.
But David O. Russell lives for the mess. It is his ideal state and his favorite subject. “Amsterdam”, like all of the director’s films, is clearly the work of someone who sought so be it; someone who sought sepia-black sound on one of America’s most awkward political conspiracies to feel like a humorless farce, an asexual “Jules and Jim” love triangle, and also a candid rebuttal of America’s latest surge of fascism altogether. time.
Such an exuberant amount has become Russell’s signature over the past two decades, as most of his 21st century films – beginning and culminating with the miraculous “I Heart Huckabees” – have gone haywire trying to thread a measure of divine unity through the frayed quilt of our existence (“When you get the blanket, you can relax because everything you could ever want or be, you already have and are”). A valid subject, of course, but in order to dramatize how everything is connected on a subatomic level, Russell must first dissect his films with a superficial layer of chaos. To hear the beauty of the breakdown, he must first orchestrate a cacophony of white noise.
In Russell’s more “grounded” fare — namely earlier work like “Three Kings,” but also 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” during which the filmmaker embraced the rhythmic, undocked 360-degree style he still employs today – the real world once gave him something like a leg to stand on. When it comes to the (even more) heightened likes of his later collaborations with Jennifer Lawrence, however, Russell was responsible for creating the same mess he wanted to clean up, and that invariably leads to a bunch of bad shtick.
The same goes with “Amsterdam,” which replaces Lawrence with the equally playing Margot Robbie and surrounds her with a dozen others of today’s biggest stars, but otherwise continues the director’s recent trend. to try (and fail) to seek the truth in the midst of whitewater rapids. of his own bullshit.
“Much of it really happened,” promises the film’s pained smile of an opening title card (What Did Adam McKay Forge Up?), Which Turns Out To Be An Introduction typically misleading from a filmmaker who can no longer tell the difference between truth and artifice. It also turns out to be a perverted setup for a story that begins with Christian Bale playing someone who clearly never existed. No one on Earth will come back from “Amsterdam” wondering if Dr. Burt Berendsen – a kind and goofy World War I vet whose crumpled optimism and frizzy shock of brown hair makes it look like he’s is distant from a set of Coen brothers – was a real person. Willy Wonka was a more believable human being.
Less obviously invented is Burt’s best friend, former war buddy and forever straight man, Harold Woodman, Esq. (John David Washington), who summons Burt to a Manhattan funeral home one day in 1933. It appears that the magnanimous general who created Burt and Harold’s mixed-race army regiment has been murdered, and his daughter—played by Taylor Swift, who acquits herself with aplomb in a brief cameo that will survive in meme form long after the rest of this film has been forgotten — would like our trusted heroes to perform the autopsy.
Chris Rock is also there for some reason, occupying perhaps the most egregious “there for some reason” role in a film that features fierce competition from Michael Shannon and Mike Myers as the goofy pair of spies, Ed Begley Jr. as the corpse, ex-New York Ranger Sean Avery as the random soldier and Matthias Schoenaerts as the hulking detective (at least Alessandro Nivola, who plays Schoenaerts’ crazy partner, finds a wide range of reasons fun to be around every time he appears on screen).
The general’s murder will prove to be the first domino in a cryptocratic plot to overthrow the US government and replace it with a puppet dictator controlled by a cabal of racist business tycoons – where our history books remember of him as “The Business Plot” before the same methods were once renamed “Republican Agenda.” But ‘Amsterdam’ can’t fully embrace its destiny as the interwar ‘American Hustle’ until it guides us through a major backstory, and so we’re off to 1918, where Burt and Harold find themselves under the loving care of a kindly deranged. nurse named Valerie Voze (Robbie, serving as a tight-fitting version of Harley Quinn) after suffering frontline injuries.
Valerie and Harold fall in love, which works for Burt because his foolish heart belongs to the WASPy nightmare of a woman he left at home (Andrea Riseborough), and the three of them decamp to Amsterdam for a slice. Bohemian Eden and the best years of their lives. Alas, it’s only a matter of time before reality kicks in and the trio go their separate ways, a separation all the more unfortunate as this film actually has a nice little kick during the brief periods. where his blissful triumvirate is left to swan around the dream life they share together.
These characters are destined to reunite over a decade later when it’s revealed that Valerie – who has her own story – was the one who suggested Burt and Harold for the General’s autopsy, but little of the old magic. follows them home. The rare traces that remain are not enough to support a convoluted but too simple conspiratorial saga that is only a business and no product.
Some mysterious proto-Nazi types, primarily represented by Timothy Olyphant’s mustachioed Tarim Milfax, are trying to install the very indifferent General Gil Dillenbeck (a very indifferent Robert De Niro) in the White House, and possibly sterilize the population. black American at the same time, although this subplot is oddly understated for something so sinister. Despite Russell’s bulging cast size – I haven’t even mentioned that Anya Taylor-Joy does a rather wonderful turn as Valerie’s aloof sister, Rami Malek stares at a few scenes as her wealthy hubby, or as Zoe Saldaña plays Nurse Burt’s autopsy crush with a harsh plea that cries out for a better movie – there’s only a small handful of plausible suspects who could be behind the plot, the details of which are yet to come. more undercooked here than they seem to have been in real life.
And the one thing that could foil their diabolical plan and prove that love will ultimately triumph over hate? An interracial group.
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios
That “Amsterdam” manages to run for 134 minutes without slowing down – despite its wanton disarray of a plot – should be taken as a mild warning. Russell strays far from the idea that Burt and Harold are suspects in the General’s murder, but he never feels like either of them is in danger. The bulk of the film is devoted to scenes that feature 10 gallons of dialogue poured into the story beats the size of a thimble, an orgiastic flurry of self-amused reaction shots, and a spinning voice-over track that passes randomly between characters (drink whenever Bale says he “followed the wrong god home” and you might be lucky enough to pass out before Mike Myers talks about the cuckoo birds) . Sometimes this strategy can make it seem like Burt, Harold, and Vera share the same thoughts. more often it’s as if they share the same writer.
As far as Russell is concerned, this may be more of a feature than a bug. For him, anything goes in the pursuit of a certain crazy vibration – a harmonic singularity that suggests everything is connected. His supercollider-like films strive to reveal this molecular unity by spinning so fast that they end up blurry, and they tend to work best during times when raw energy is catalyzed into action (or vice-versa) .
If “Amsterdam” finally comes to some very simple conclusions about the power of love and the cycle of repeating history, it at least manages to stay in Russell’s favorite zone longer (and more sympathetically) than several of his previous films. . As dissonant as it might be for a David O. Russell character to preach the protective virtues of kindness, there’s an undeniable spark that binds Burt, Harold, and Vera together — a bond that seems to grow stronger as time goes by. as the film progresses because of how it resists the absurdity that surrounds it.
As with any interwar story about the power of friendship, ‘Amsterdam’ knows its victories will be Pyrrhic in nature, but if history repeats itself, it means our hopes for a better future can also be repeated. “Do me a favor,” Burt asks: “Try to be optimistic.” Of course, the optimism is the easy part in a movie like this. It is an entertainment that proves to be elusive.
20th Century Studios will release “Amsterdam” in theaters on Friday, October 7.