AMSTERDAM Review: Less Than the Sum of its Parts

AMSTERDAM debuts in theaters on 10/7/22 and features a fantastic cast and surprising cameos. Set in the 1930’s, the plot revolves around three friends who witness a murder, are framed for it, and uncover one of the most outrageous plots in American history. Those three friends are played by Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, American Psycho), Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, I, Tonya ), and John David Washington (Tenet, Monsters and Men). Written and directed by David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), the pedigree of AMSTERDAM speaks for itself. Which brings us to the review. AMSTERDAM, in the immortal words of Cher (Clueless) is a full-on Monet.

‘From far away it’s okay, but up close it’s a big ol’ mess. ‘

Cher (Clueless)

This film has all the elements that make a great movie. The cast and acting – superb. The chemistry between characters – amazing. The message – beautiful. The cinematography and lighting design – excellent. The makeup, hair, costumes and special effects – fantastic. Put these all together and you’d think it would be an excellent film. However, when all these beautiful scenes were strung together, it doesn’t measure up to the sum of its dazzling parts.

What it lacked was a tighter script and a memorable musical score, both elements that drive a period piece like this. AMSTERDAM doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it a historical drama with a bit of revisionist history a la Quentin Tarantino? Or is it a comedy with actor cameos popping in to keep you amused? (Taylor Swift! Robert de Niro! Mike Myers!) Or is it an action-packed murder mystery with campy gore, like Clue? The film’s tone dabbles in all three, and therefore falls short on all counts.

The 1930’s setting and the cast drew me to the film. But it suffers from long-winded scenes in which the characters talk and talk…and talk…and talk some more and throw out so many character names you need a roster or a good glossary on hand to keep track. Sometimes the characters talk about something exciting, but the film never shows us those enticing scenes. It was a lot of tell, not show; when a film is supposed to show and not tell. AMSTERDAM’s plot was so dense that the climactic final scene wrapped up with narration. And even then it felt anticlimactic. One thing we learned: amazing acting and chemistry cannot save a long-winded script.

(L-R): Christian Bale as Burt Berendsen, Margot Robbie as Valerie Voze, John David Washington as Harold Woodman, Mike Myers as Paul Canterbury, and Michael Shannon as Henry Norcross in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace; SMPSP. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

One thing AMSTERDAM does achieve is the subtle commentary on black people and their prospects and life in 1910’s-1930’s America. Margot Robbie’s Valerie and John David Washington’s Harold fall in love during The Great War and relocate to Amsterdam because they know their lives would be miserable in 1920’s New York. The film touches on other aspects of bigotry, like an American black regiment in World War I forced to don French uniforms instead of the American one. Christian Bale’s Burt is a doctor intent on helping all veterans, be they black, white, or any other race, and he is ousted from high society for his trouble. This message is extremely well-done, not preachy at all and leaves you with thoughts far beyond the ending of the film. Had the story lived up to the sum of its parts, this would have been a glowing review. 

AMSTERDAM is showing now in U.S. theaters.

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