Amsterdam tells the story of three friends who get caught up in the murder of a senator and, while trying to prove the innocence of two of the three friends framed for the crime, discover they’re actually part of a much larger and sinister plot. David O. Russell (Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook) directs a historical, star-studded comedy that’s often long-winded and a bit self-indulgent, but a quirky, humorous style and incredible performance from Christian Bale still made it an entertaining movie.
During World War I, Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) and his friend Harold Woodman (John David Washington) sustain disfiguring injuries. While hospitalized receiving treatment they meet and befriend Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), one of the nurses. Realizing they’ve formed a special friendship and particular outlook, the three move to Amsterdam to enjoy life away from the war. However, Burt has a wife waiting for him back in America and Harold has dreams of being a lawyer so the Amsterdam dream-life can only last for so long.
After returning to America without Valerie, Burt and Harold spend the next 15 years pursuing their professional careers. One day the two are hired by Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift) to carry out an autopsy on a dead senator who appears to have died under suspicious circumstances. When the results of the autopsy reveal a terrible truth, Liz is killed and Burt and Harold are framed for her murder. Burt and Harold embark on a journey to prove their innocence that not only reunites them with Valerie but puts them in the middle of a plot far larger than they could have possibly imagined.
Despite a bloated runtime consisting of excessively long (and arguably unnecessary) scenes and drawn-out dialogue, the one thing that managed to keep my interest was the fantastic performance given by Christian Bale. Bale’s quirky portrayal of a half-Jewish war veteran doctor and “painkiller developer” is what ultimately drives the film and keeps it entertaining. But it’s a performance that, unfortunately, overshadows much of the film’s star ensemble who, despite giving solid performances of their own, fall far from the bar set by the man who wore the cape in Christopher Nolen’s Batman trilogy.
Writer / Director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings) does a bang up job transporting the audience back to the 1930s. With amazing sets, wardrobe and complimentary color palette that complete the look of the film, you really feel immersed in this moment of history. It’s just a shame that with such a great ensemble of famous stars with an eclectic range of acting chops delivering the comedic and dramatic goods to the quirky and slightly absurd story, Amsterdam should have been far more entertaining than it was.
However, as the story neared its finale, I had a feeling there wasn’t going to be much of a payoff given the artsy vibe, a suspicion that was confirmed during the finale (no spoilers). If ever there was a film that needed more time in the editing room, it was this one, as there were moments it just felt exhausting.
Still, even with its editing flaws Amsterdam is a visually impressive film with an even more impressive performance from Christian Bale and backed by a wonderfully warm tone that transports you back to another time. And with an exceptionally large cast of recognizable stars, there’s a celebrity present for every taste. However, a laborious runtime and unnecessarily long scenes that could have been excised out make this film less enjoyable than it could have been.