Starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro
Written and directed by David O. Russell
Produced by Arnon Milchan, Matthew Budman, Anthony Katagas, David O. Russell, Christian Bale
By Matt Neufeld
The new 1930s period murder-mystery movie “Amsterdam” is a bafflingly, confusingly, confoundingly and flat-out bizarrely unsuccessful and disappointing high-budget and high-profile misfire and flop in a year full of bizarro high-budget and high-profile misfires and flops, and this boring, amateurish failure just adds to 2022’s continually-increasing and
embarrassing list of such depressing downer duds.
And writer-director-co-producer David O. Russell has only himself to blame.
Russell has made a film that so horrendously fails on nearly every major filmic level–writing, directing and acting, mind you–that while watching this mess, one can only submit to trite, cliched, stereotypical reactions and literally sigh, roll your eyes, look away embarrassingly, look down at the ground, roll your eyes and ask out loud, in all professional seriousness: “What the hell were you thinking?” Yes, “Amsterdam” is really that disappointing.
As “Amsterdam” gets grouped in with 2022’s other many flops and duds and embarrassments, the nice folks over at the Razzie offices are going to have a busy few weeks after 2022 ends. They’re also going to have a boatload of fun.
It’s not going overboard to say, directly, just how disappointing and amateurish–and below-average–“Amsterdam” really is, despite the over-active, but clearly premature and unfounded, advance hype. That hype centered basically on the Russell name and the glittery big-name cast that Russell roped into this project. However, “Amsterdam”i s yet another filmic lesson, and warning, yet again, that no matter how much Q-score, A-list, high-profile, zeitgeisty, big-name cast and crew and overblown budgets that producers and studios throw up and out and into a movie, that’s still no guarantee that all of that talent will work out successfully in the end. Sometimes, a flop is just a flop.
Russell somehow managed to write an overblown, scattered, confusing, disjointed, meandering and continuously wayward script that tries far too hard to be too many things–and fails to be any of those things. Russell’s story, plot, subplot, script, dialogue, characters and characterizations are too broad, too over-blown, unnecessarily melodramatic, all over the place, poorly written, poorly drawn out, and are written to try and be intriguing, mysterious, dramatic, comedic, suspenseful and diabolical–but, again, amazingly and strangely–the characters, the story and the overall movie are never–that’s right, never–intriguing, mysterious, dramatic, comedic, suspenseful or diabolical. That sounds harsh—but it’s just true.
And when Russell is obviously trying to make a film that tries to be all of these elements all at once, he ends up imploding his own movie by trying too hard to be everything, and subsequently succeeding at nothing. Russell needed an experienced story editor, or two, to come in and sharply pare down his obvious excesses and over-reaching tendencies. Russell did over-write, though, and his over-writing destroys the movie.
Additionally, Russell’s dialogue is oddly amateurish, and constantly full of rookie-level lame attempts at comedy, drama, suspense and intrigue. The repeated, tired attempts at comedy are off-track, poorly timed, poorly paced, poorly edited—-and simply not funny. There is no real drama, because there no real tension, chemistry, attraction or registered emotional connection among the characters, all of whom are generally presented more like stock puzzle pieces, scene dressing, arrogant displays of self-centeredness and show-and-tell prizes than actual, real people. The dialogue, delivery, timing and chemistry are all off, continually, as if Russell lost his literal direction early in production and never got it back.
And Russell’s direction, even more than his story, script, plot and characterization mistakes and faults, is horrendous. The camera hovers, shakes, rolls and glides here and there for no real reason, his shot compositions and choices are odd, his editing, pacing and timing are off, transitions are clunky, camera angles don’t make sense, the blocking and choreography of shots and scenes are off, there’s very little real chemistry among the lead actors, as noted, the line readings by the actors–all of whom should know better–are mumbled, whispered and oddly- and irritatingly-delivered, and even the lighting and sound mixing seem to be off-kilter, often.
This may sound too brutal and harsh, but it’s not difficult to observe once this film starts rolling. Russell simply tried so hard and too hard to make some period murder-mystery comedy suspense political thriller, but his writing and direction got the better of him, no one apparently stepped in with sound advice regarding improving the script and the direction, editing, pacing, timing and acting chemistry, and Russell’s one-man-show ended up wasting a story and a movie that could have been and should have been a contender.
The story tries to focus on the friendship of three wayward World War I veterans and their eventual, clunky and poorly-set-up involvement in some weird underground political movement in the United States that’s designed to overthrow the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Two of the friends are dumbly–astoundingly–wrongly blamed for the murder of a woman connected to that underground plot and movement–in one of the worst and most clumsily and poorly set up murder framings in ages. Then, for the rest of the movie, they try to clear their names.
When that murder framing, which is supposed to be the foundation for everything that follows, isn’t even believable, and is poorly presented, that just makes just about everything that follows equally unbelievable. And, as mentioned, there’s very little actual intrigue, mystery or suspense–despite a story and plot that cry out for, well, intrigue, mystery and suspense.
The three lead actors somehow add to the movie’s irritations by delivering the oddest, and, at times, most disappointingly flat, lanquid, one-note and monotonous performances.
Christian Bale once again buries himself beneath mountains of gross prosthetics and make-up to ugly up and hide his real features, all of which fails completely. His characterization of the lead character–for no clear needed or useful or humorous reason on any level–recalls Peter Falk’s bumbling, mumbling 1970s “Columbo” television show detective. However, there’s literally zero reason for this–“Amsterdam,” which is set in the 1930s, has absolutely nothing to do with Peter Falk, Columbo, the 1970s or even television. Bale’s character has one fake eye, as did Peter Falk, but so what? Bale should have just played his character straight, without the prosthetics, without the make-up, without the accent, without the unneeded and unfunny affectations. Yes, Bale has shown he can ugly up himself and play characters that don’t look or sound like him. But he needs to get out of this typecasting and just be himself for awhile in future roles. The same goes for Bale contemporary Jared Leto: You don’t have to play an offshoot of Lon Chaney in every role. Sometimes, it’s okay to just be you and let your natural self come through in acting roles.
Margot Robbie, who also plays one of the three main friends, is, of course, strikingly and glamorously beautiful and sexy. But she, too, underwhelms in this movie. Again, her timing, pacing, chemistry and comedic skills are off here. Robbie is beautiful, but a pretty face can’t save a movie.
And what on earth is John David Washington doing in his role in this movie? He’s annoyingly expressionless, ineffective, unemotional, flat and even boring in his deliveries, presentation, physicality and presence. There’s just about zero energy from him, and thus, he does contribute to bringing down this movie.
And the less said about Chris Rock’s and Mike Myers’ appearances and acting in this movie, all the better. Rock spews offensive hateful racist lines in which all he seems to do is bash white people–and there’s no real, deep context, reason or justification on a continual, common sense level for his racist shouting and yelling–especially when his character is supposed to be fighting against…racism. Rock needs to take a role in which he doesn’t continually spout offensive, backwards, racist, anti-white provocations. Mike Myers also seems to have a thing lately for burying himself under layers of prosthetics and make-up–something that’s stereotyping him, too. It’s time for Myers, too, to ditch this practice and just be himself for a change.
Yes, it’s fun for actors to hide beneath prosthetics and make-up for a role or two, but if you lose yourself in easy disguises for too long in too many roles, you also end up losing your audience.
A bevy of supporting actors all fall into Russell’s traps throughout “Amstetdam,” trying to act funny in unfunny scenes and trying to be mysterious and intriguing in un-mysterious and non-intriguing scenes.
And Rami Malek appears as a villain, but Malek needs to watch out for possible typecasting, too. He’s coming off a similar role as a Bond villain in the dreary, disappointing “No Time to Die,” and it’d be great to see him get back to a more likeable, relatable role in movies. There’s an appealing presence there in Malek, and it’d be shame to let that get buried under stock crazy psycho villain roles.
The lone actor who redeems himself in this mess of a movie is Robert De Niro, but even De Niro can’t save this movie. De Niro appears strongly in a few scenes late in the movie, but by then, it’s just too little, too late.
The costuming, hair, make-up, props, set design, art design and production design crew members who worked on “Amsterdam” to nicely present 1930s and early twentieth-century America and Amsterdam are to be commended for their great period work in “Amsterdam.” However, a pretty production design can’t save this movie, either.
Russell should have ditched the failed attempts at romance and comedy, he should have brought in an experienced political and spy thriller screenwriter, and he should written and directed a straight, tense, taut, tight and suspenseful political spy intrigue thriller with the mood, atmosphere, paranoia and essence of classics in this genre, such as “Munich,” “Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Operation Finale,” “JFK,” “Spy Game,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “All the President’s Men,” “Day of the Jackal,” “Operation Fortune,” “The Russia House” and “Marathon Man.”
Actually, in late 2022, the world right now needs a new, high-quality political intrigue spy thriller. And also in late 2022, the world needs quite a few more new high-quality movies in general.