3 out of 5 stars

Even with the slow death of the historical notion of the ‘Movie Star’, there’s still something alluring about cramming a bunch of famous actors into a sprawling story with a freewheeling vibe and immersive atmosphere. 

Amsterdam certainly has that going for it. Following a trend of recent and upcoming star-laden vehicles–such as Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), Knives Out (2019) and its sequel Glass Onion (2022), Don’t Look Up (2021), House of Gucci (2021), Bullet Train (2022), Babylon (2022), Oppenheimer (2023), and more—it’s increasingly the case that a prestige film aimed at adults will only get made if the cast is chock full of recognisable faces. If it’s unattached to a major IP.

It’s hard not to enjoy watching Amsterdam’s eclectic cast simply interact. I mean, look at the list of actors: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Timothy Olyphant, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, and pop star Taylor Swift.

The film centres around Burt Berendsen (Bale) and Harold Woodsman, a doctor and lawyer, respectively, as a pair of injury-stricken World War I vets, and Valerie Voze (Robbie) as the nurse that puts them back together. The trio forms a deep connection with each other in their beloved Amsterdam, which functions as a post-injury hideaway. Eventually, they have to re-enter the real world. Berendsen and Woodsman keep their partnership intact, while Voze goes her own way. But the trio gets pulled into a rambling murder mystery/conspiracy that brings them back together again. 

Robbie feels right at home in O. Russell’s borderline slapstick style, careening around 1930s Amsterdam and New York City as if she belongs to that time. However, Washington isn’t quite as convincing in this milieu. Bale, of course, has a strong familiarity with O’Rusell’s formula, having already won an Oscar for The Fighter (2010) and been nominated for another for American Hustle (2013), both O. Russell films, and he gives the film’s strongest and most committed performance. 

Amsterdam gives off sort of an off-brand version of the screwball energy that made Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle such big critical and commercial hits. It’s fun to watch… up to a point. At times, the silliness almost overtakes the compelling, albeit confusing mystery at the core of the story. And by the time the third act rolls around, the train has flown completely off the tracks. The story heads into shocking directions that never fully gel, either tonally or in a storytelling sense. 

At this time, it must be said that this could very well be the last David O. Russell movie, at least at the studio level, for a long time. The allegations of abuse, both on-set and off, are upsetting. That his formula seems to be losing a bit of steam between this and Joy (2015) has nothing to do with those allegations, but it’ll make it easier for Hollywood not to produce any of his future projects.

As for the rest of the ensemble, De Niro (in his fourth O. Russell collaboration) brings a stoic but reserved presence as General Gil Dillenbeck; Taylor-Joy and Malek are having a joyous time as Voze’s sister Libby and brother Tom, a freak-show pairing at the centre of seemingly everything; and Swift’s role as Elizabeth Meekins not only sparks the main storyline but is almost as genius a bit of stunt casting as Harry Styles’ role in Don’t Worry Darling (2022). 

It’s great fun, at times, watching a truly inspired cast galavant around New York City in that familiar O. Russell style. But the lack of cohesiveness and frustrating third act prevent this movie from reaching the director’s previous heights. 

USA | 2022 | 134 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writer & director: David O. Russell.
starring: 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 & Robert De Niro.