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  • Benjamin May

Amsterdam (2022) Review

In the early 1930's, one-eyed doctor Burt Berendsen and his friend, lawyer Harold Woodsman, are hired by the daughter of their commander from the Great War to investigate his strange death. After she is murdered, the perpetrator frames the duo for the act. As Berendsen and Woodsman try to prove their innocence, they encounter a variety of odd characters, including the beautiful, Bohemian Valerie; a friend from the War and Woodsman's old lover. Whether or not they solve the grisly mystery, and if they all get out alive, remains to be seen in David O. Russell's 'Amsterdam.'

A stylish film that's very light on substance, 'Amsterdam'- loosely inspired by real events- is a glitzy, glamourous flick that breaks no new ground or makes any significant waves. Relying on obvious twists to provide suspense- and full of over-written and expositional dialogue- the narrative is underwhelming, exceedingly aureate and predictable. It is a shallow affair, with no genuine heart. Russell centers his tale around the kinship Berendsen, Woodsman and Valerie experienced during the war, though the reasoning behind their bond is tenuously explained at best, and feels forced throughout.

Additionally, all of the characters are caricatures of little depth, with many of the secondary ones being rather irritating. While the quirky folk Russell populated films like 'I Heart Huckabees' and 'American Hustle' with felt like genuinely off-beat personalities one might find in reality, those in 'Amsterdam' are overblown, thoroughly artificial creations that would feel ham-fisted in your average soap opera, let alone a big-budget film from a cinematic auteur. By putting them inside his weak story, Russell has concocted a devastatingly mediocre narrative cocktail.

The picture is not a complete disaster, however, containing some praiseworthy elements. For one, Emmanuel Lubezki's rich cinematography is captivating, making excellent use of space and color, giving the film a distinct atmosphere and feel which- at its' best- successfully evokes film noir and the golden age of Hollywood. Judy Becker's production design is of an exceptionally high quality, and everything on screen looks both period accurate and highly detailed. The costume design from J. R. Hawbaker and Albert Wolsky is wonderful, with their outfits for Valerie being especially striking.

One must also mention Jay Cassidy's editing, as he assuredly had a difficult job trying to make cohesive Russell's sprawling epic, and he nearly succeeds. While there are pacing issues and some scenes go on too long, Cassidy's efforts deserve credit, if not plaudits. Additionally, while Daniel Pemberton's score is quite melodramatic, it does lend the film additional suspense and atmosphere, which is most welcome and appreciated by the viewer.

Also welcome is the presence of Christian Bale, starring as Berendsen. Arguably one of the most versatile actors of all time, Bale's performance as Berendsen is joyfully, wonderfully over-the-top and easily the strongest element of the movie. He is always convincing, charming his way into viewers' hearts immediately. Had Bale not been cast in the part, there would be very little reason to watch the film, as the work of his screen partners is considerably less laudable.

Many reviewers have mentioned that John David Washington is underplaying the part of Woodsman, ostensibly in order to balance out the more theatrical performances from the rest of the cast. Perhaps that is giving him too much credit though, as he comes across as more wooden than anything else. Margot Robbie is a different story, who has been a little short-changed by Hollywood as of late, appearing in major films but getting very little to do. Tarantino wasted her talents in the egregiously overrated 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,' Jay Roach underutilized her in 'Bombshell' and now Russell has done the same. Though Robbie tries her darndest to make the free spirit Valerie interesting, Russell's paper-thin characterization nullifies her efforts.

The film features as the supporting cast a who's who of Hollywood, some of whom do very good work and most of whom are wasted. Anya Taylor-Joy and Rami Malek are the real stand outs, playing an eccentric couple reminiscent of Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant from 'Hudson Hawk.' Like Bale, their delightful overacting injects some much-needed joy into the proceedings, and they work wonderfully together. Unfortunately, Russell squanders the talents of the rest (Robert De Niro, Michael Shannon and others) giving them little interesting to do but stand around and pad the cast list; truly a tragic waste of capable players.

'Amsterdam' is a muddled, missed opportunity featuring an underutilized cast and an uninspired narrative. Though visually rich and striking, the film has very little to offer the viewing audience- certainly nothing new. Fans of Christian Bale will enjoy the exuberance of his performance, but this is a lightweight movie that doesn't adequately take advantage of his- or any of the other cast members'- ability. To cut a long story short, 'Amsterdam' is a cheapskate hustle of a film that is destined to be forgotten, except as an example of movie-making folly; for which it will be eternally remembered.


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