“A lot of this really happened” flashes up at the start of Amsterdam, David O. Russell’s first feature since the underrated Joy (2015). But such is the crazed nature of the enormous events that follow, and the screwy manner in which Russell presents them, you suspect he’s pulling a Fargo and telling a playful porky.
This fact/fiction tale begins in New York in 1933, with Great War veteran Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) practising experimental medicine to aid his fellow vets. His old war pal Harold Woodman (John David Washington), now an attorney, turns up with news that General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) is dead. Their former leader was murdered, suspects the General’s daughter, Liz (Taylor Swift), and the trio set about pilfering the corpse to perform an autopsy.
The intrigue widens to take in detectives, politicians, big business, American and English intelligence agents (Mike Myers all but resurrects Austin Powers). There’s also General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro, again turning it on for Russell in their fourth collaboration), who fights for the rights of America’s veterans, many of them people of color. We also spin back to 1918 to discover how Burt and Harold became friends with pipe-smoking nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), who reappears in ’33 to help her old friends in their investigation.
Amsterdam will not win over Russell’s detractors, whose feelings towards his convoluted plotting, untidy digressions, seesawing mood shifts and wild clash of sincerity and cynicism can be summed up with the eye-roll emoji. All of the above is here, along with a running gag of Burt losing his glass eye. But for those un-irked by the quirk of I ❤ Huckabees and American Hustle – who are not infuriated but exhilarated by Russell’s energy as he tears up the (Silver Linings) playbook – Amsterdam offers much to enjoy.
For starters, there’s everything the detractors loathe. And then you’ve got the handsome costumes, sumptuous production design, Emmanuel Lubezki’s bronze-and-chestnut photography… plus charismatic performances from the ludicrously starry cast, which also includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, Rami Malek, and Zoe Saldana. The film also has things to say about today’s divided world.
It’s a rocky, at times patience-testing ride that plays something like a screwball riff on The Plot Against America, but Amsterdam is ultimately worth the trip.
Amsterdam is in cinemas from October 7, 2022. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way soon.