By John H. Foote
(*) In theatres
Such a marvelous cast, combined with a solid director, and this is what happens? Ouch. It has bomb written all over it and, if I am not mistaken, just smells bad. After some great films such as Three Kings (1999), The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and American Hustle (2013), David O. Russell takes a huge step backwards with his weakest film since breaking through over 20 years ago.
John David Washington (Denzel’s son) gives another performance where not a muscle on his face moves; he speaks, but the rest of his face remains immobile. Is he really that limited an actor? No one expects Washington to be the actor his father is, few are, but I expect at least an effort. Sorry, I fail to see it. Understand I am not blaming the actor entirely, there is so much wrong with the film, but Washington does not contribute to the chemistry of the actors one iota. Margot Robbie is pure charisma in anything she does, she radiates excitement the second she appears on screen. I daresay she could make reading the phone book exciting.
Christian Bale long ago established himself as one of the greatest living actors, so we come to expect at least good from him, but he needs a story too. It all starts with the narrative, and very quickly Amsterdam falls apart under the strain of not having a good plot. Or is it a confusing, incoherent narrative? Maybe a bit of both. Political intrigue, threats to America, and some outlandish events dominate the story, so why is it not more exciting?
We begin in New York in 1933, where Burt Berendsen (Bale) is an oddball doctor focusing his efforts on new medicines for the soldiers injured in WWI, which he has been. When his buddy Harold (Washington) calls the two unite, again, hoping to unravel the death of a respected General (Ed Begley Jr.) whose daughter, portrayed by Taylor Swift, suspects something very wrong. Berendson and Harold find themselves the targets of a frameup that is going to take some fancy dancing to get out of.
Back we go to 1918, and the beginnings of their friendship in a French army hospital where they meet Valerie (Robbie) who becomes part of their merry trio. Valerie seems to be living something of bohemian lifestyle, a hippy before there was such a thing, bringing much needed energy to the lives of the two men, and the film. Back we go to 1933, and the appearances of Oscar winner Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy as a filthy rich couple with a great interest in helping the two solve the problem they have run into. Enter Robert De Niro as a General clearly hiding something that the doctor and lawyer need to know to solve the crime.
With me? If not don’t worry about it, no one else will be either and there is a huge plot twist right ahead I will not divulge.
I get it Russell, let’s not divide the nation, and of course this is directed at Trump America, but does it need to be so convoluted? So unspeakably dull.
So, with the talent on display here, the aforementioned Bale, Robbie, Washington, De Niro, Swift, Begley Jr. and the added stars power of Mike Myers and Michael Shannon how did this go so very wrong?
Again, it all starts with the screenplay and this one is just whacked. No focus, no clear-cut idea or message.
Bale is fine but he is always at the very least fine. He gets by on a bare bones performance that calls for the bare minimum of his talents. Robbie has such charisma the second she shows up the film is energized, but with so little to do I longed for Harley Quinn.
Anytime you have Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro and the members of this cast there are certain expectations that are just not met. De Niro exudes power and is a nice addition to the film, whereas Swift and Myers are wasted. Rami Malek actually won an Oscar? One would never know it and what Russell does not do with Taylor-Jor is criminal. The lady is one of the finest new actresses at work in film today, and she is wasted here. The biggest disappointment though is the much-heralded Washington, he is empty in the film, a nonentity.
This might be the year’s biggest disappointment.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.