Josh Reviews Amsterdam
Not long after watching and enjoying See How They Run, I moved on to another period-piece murder mystery film with a sprawling all-star cast that was released towards the end of 2022: David O. Russell’s Amsterdam.
Christian Bale and John David Washington star in the film as Burt Berendsen and Harold Woodman, two disabled WWI veterans who wind up embroiled in the 1933 “Business Plot,” a real-life event in which a group of wealthy American businessmen plotted to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and install a military general in his place. On the run and framed for murder, they reconnect with the enigmatic nurse Valerie Bandenberg (Margot Robbie), who befriended the two injured soldiers when they were recovering after the war. These three good-hearted but bumbling souls quickly find themselves in over their heads as they try to clear their names and maybe stop a cabal of American fascists.
David O. Russell’s latest film bombed in theaters, but I thought it was a delight and one that was unfairly dismissed by critics. The film is a little shaggy, and it’s certainly very weird, with all sorts of digressions and moments that might feel extraneous to an impatient viewer but that were, to me, key to my enjoyment of the film. The movie itself feels like it is as off-kilter as Christian Bale’s character of Burt Berendsen, a one-eyed drug-user. But I loved that about the film! This is a strange movie, but I enjoyed every minute of it. The writing is sharp, the cast is terrific, and in the end I was pleased by how well all the various story threads came together.
Mr. Bale and Mr. Washington are both terrific, and Margot Robbie is perfect as the third point in their weird triangle. The three actors had terrific chemistry together; the film really sings when they are on-screen together. Christian Bale has played a lot of odd ducks in his career, and the fast-talking, good-hearted Burt is a wonderful addition to his coterie of kooky characters. Mr. Bale is able to perfectly balance portraying Burt as a fellow who might have a screw loose… but who also seems to be right on the money in his instinct that something very bad is afoot. John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Tenet), playing Harold, is a perfect counterpoint to Mr. Bale’s Burt. Harold seems steady in every way in which Burt is shaky, and while the two men are opposites, their strong friendship shines through. Margot Robbie is terrific as Valerie, the young woman with whom both Harold and Burt seem infatuated. She was their savior after the war, but now, years later, she’s even more lost in the post-war world than they are.
The film has an incredible cast — in addition to the three stars I’ve already mentioned, it features a gloriously deep bench of terrific actors playing small roles. Where to begin? How about with Robert De Niro, who plays Gilbert Dillenbeck, the general who unexpectedly finds himself at the center of the attempted coup plot. Mr. De Niro is hilariously deadpan as the stiff, man-with-a-code general. Chris Rock is a spectacular explosion of energy whenever he’s on-screen as Milton King, one of Harold and Burt’s old army buddies. Mike Myers and Michael Shannon are a riot as a duo of spies (Mr. Myers’ character is from MI6, while Mr. Shannon’s character is from U.S. Naval Intelligence) to whom Burt and Harold turn to for help. (I’d love to see a spin-off movie with those two gentlemen spies at the center!) Anya Taylor-Joy and Rami Malek are great fun as the wealthy couple to whom Valerie has a connection. Zoe Saldaña is wonderful as a medical examiner who works with Harold. (I wish we’d seen more of her in the film!) Andrea Riseborough (who’s in the news these days for her Oscar nomination for the little-seen 2022 film To Leslie) is wonderful here as Beatrice Vandenheuvel, Burt’s wife, who has bent to the will of her wealthy family and cut off ties with him. I was overjoyed to see the great Casey Biggs (Damar from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!!!) as Beatrice’s stern father. It’s fun to see Taylor Swift in a small role as Elizabeth Meekins, whose father’s death is the event that starts all the dominoes in the film’s story falling. Ed Begley Jr. plays Elizabeth’s father, Bill. Timothy Olyphant, under a good deal of make-up, is great as the menacing goon Tarim Milfax. Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts are terrific as Detectives Hiltz and Getwiller, the two detectives on the trail of Burt and Harold. (I’d also love to see a spin-off film with these two knuckleheads at the center!)
What an ensemble! The film is a jaunty mystery, populated with these wonderfully weird and bizarre characters. It’s funny and also suspenseful. It feels like Harold and Burt are in real danger, and I was not at all certain, as I was watching, that this movie was going to have a happy ending. I enjoyed going on this ride; I recommend this film to those of you who missed it when it came out a few months ago. (That’s probably most of you!)
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