A Top-Notch Cast Can’t Save This Meandering Plot

Dec 26, 2022

Casts don’t get more star-studded than the one in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam. This is a gorgeous caper with more big names than the Oscars, though it doesn’t quite have the story to back them up. Russell, best known for directing awards darlings like American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, is a controversial figure, and it seems unlikely that his latest effort will win over anyone who has been turned off by his past behavior. At times fun and well-made, Amsterdam’s meandering plot and thinly-drawn characters bog down what could’ve been a zippy story of crime and friendship.

Amsterdam begins with army vet Bert Berendsen (Christian Bale), now working as a backalley doctor for fellow veterans, being called in on a strange case by his good friend, lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington). A man they both knew from World War I has turned up dead, and his daughter (Taylor Swift) wants to know what happened. What first seems like a simple way to honor a man they both respected becomes far more complicated for Bert and Harold, with the two quickly becoming embroiled in a nefarious plot that ties into the third member of the trio they started during the war: Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), a carefree woman with a complicated past. This adventure takes the three friends to places none could expect, least of all themselves.

Related: Christian Bale Is Wrongfully Accused Of Murder In Amsterdam Trailer

Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Margot Robbie in Amsterdam

On paper, Amsterdam seems like a surefire hit. Russell has a solid track record, and his cast is made up of awards winners and nominees alike. Those elements, mixed with a twisty conspiracy plot, should’ve made Amsterdam soar. Unfortunately, Russell’s ambitions get away from him here. After grabbing audiences’ attention with its opening, which establishes Bert’s somewhat improper business dealings and throws in a shocking murder in quick fashion, Amsterdam travels back in time to reveal how Bert, Harold, and Valerie became friends. As their bond is supposed to make up the heart of the film, this makes sense. There are hints of a genuine ride-or-die sentiment between the characters, but the interlude into their past amounts to little more than a speed bump in the greater plot. Amsterdam doesn’t spend enough time meaningfully developing its characters to make these asides worth it, and their relationships remain hollow.

In addition to Bale, Robbie, and Washington, Amsterdam includes the talents of Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, and Robert De Niro, among many others. With a cast of this size, it’s inevitable that some roles would end up being little more than quick bit parts. Truly talented performers like Saldaña and Olyphant are barely given time to make an impression and their characters get little dimension, but their presence alone gives Amsterdam some extra thrills. Of the standouts, Bale probably gets the meatiest role and sinks into it with full commitment. Taylor-Joy has a ball playing up her comedic talents as the fussy Libby Voze, Valerie’s sister-in-law. Robbie does what she can with a muddled character like Valerie, and Washington, whose Harold is unfortunately the least developed of the central trio, gives Amsterdam some genuine gravitas.

John David Washington, Christian Bale, and Margot Robbie in Amsterdam

Despite being a movie about a shocking conspiracy, Russell is content to take his time peeling back the layers. With stronger characters, this would’ve been fine, but as it stands in Amsterdam, it makes for a less enjoyable ride. In its final act, Amsterdam picks up steam and elicits genuine excitement as Russell unravels the truth behind the plot’s biggest mystery. This finally gives the story the urgency it needed, and while the final twist might raise some eyebrows, it at least ties everything that came before it together. Still, the middle portions of Amsterdam drag. Luckily, everything looks stunning. Judy Becker’s production design brings Amsterdam’s world, from the darkened streets of New York to the shiny wealth of Valerie’s home, to life in vivid fashion. Additionally, with Emmanuel Lubezki behind the camera, it isn’t a surprise that the cinematography complements the action well.

With such an impressive cast at its center and a compelling plot, Amsterdam held a lot of promise. To be sure, there are moments of enjoyment to be had here, and those who don’t mind more convoluted plots can probably sit back and bask in the viewing experience. Overall, though, Amsterdam falls short in some key places, making it quite an underwhelming affair.

Next: The Munsters Review: Rob Zombie Prioritizes Nostalgia Over Good Storytelling

Amsterdam debuts in theaters Friday, October 7. It is 134 minutes long and rated R for brief violence and bloody images.

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