In this day and age, it seems as if film studios tend to overly gravitate towards two things: films based on true stories/events and cameos. Filmmaker David O. Russell, in particular, is known for having stellar cast members in his productions. And this time around, he adds in the ‘true story’ element to compel viewers to see the controversial filmmaker’s latest if the cast alone can’t. In Amsterdam, three close friends find themselves at the center of one of the most shocking plots in American history. The film is overstuffed with cameos and uninspiring to say the least. But most surprisingly, it contains some of the worst acting in recent memory.
The story follows Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) after he is sent by his estranged wife’s parents to fight in WWI. While stationed in France, Burt befriends Black soldier Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). After getting injured in battle, Burt and Harold are nursed back to health by Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), an eccentric nurse with a lust for life and art. The trio moves to Amsterdam, where they live harmoniously and free from the burdens of war until they return to NYC. Fifteen years later, they investigate the murder of senator Bill Meekins at the request of his daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift). Unfortunately, this leads to a series of unfortunate events, in which they uncover dire plans for the nation.
Amsterdam is uninspiring
At the heart of Russell’s script is a story about everlasting friendship amidst shocking tragedy and mystery. Yet, nothing that happens on screen is compelling thanks to lackluster performances and an unusual lack of chemistry among the cast members. As the film is centered on that, it’s difficult to care about anything happening to the film’s leads, as their performances come off so shockingly jarring. And instead of a vibrant feature containing great chemistry and a fun cinematic experience, it’s quite the opposite. And it results in an exceptionally dull film that is impressively disappointing.
For a film that is based on a true story, it doesn’t contain an ounce of magic that these types of features usually possess. In fact, one of the only things going for Amsterdam is its set pieces and costume designs, which nicely capture the essence of the setting. Daniel Pemberton also does everything he can to accentuate the very few positives that exist throughout the feature, but even his moving score can’t seem to get the film out of its obvious bind.
Unusual lack of chemistry
I have to wonder how a film full of great stars and such a compelling story (on paper) could result in such an uninspiring mess, but that’s what happens when a filmmaker prioritizes star power over writing. It leads to an overcrowded feature with such a drastically convoluted plot, that it takes away the story and a viewer’s ability to engage with it despite all the celebrities that frequently pop up on screen. Tonally, the feature is also all over the place as it fluctuates from comedy, thriller/mystery, and romance. Honestly, I can’t recall such a colossal screw-up with a project since the unrelated The Last Thing He Wanted.
It’s unfortunate, but Amsterdam is boring, messy, and contains some poor portrayals of characters. Outside of Christian Bale, the performances by members of the cast felt off. On screen, it seems as if they were forced to be there, leading to dynamics that felt contrived and unbelievably bad—even for seasoned and acclaimed actors. Whether it’s because Russell was behind the camera is likely never to be determined. But let’s just hope that this is a lesson learned, and a film with this ‘quality’ never sees the light of day again.
Here’s the trailer to David O. Russell’s Amsterdam below: