Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 14 minutes, Director – David O. Russell
Two years-long military friends (Christian Bale, John David Washington) attempt to investigate the murder of their former commanding officer (Ed Begley Jr.), leading them to a mysterious former friend (Margot Robbie), part of a broken bond from World War One.
For anyone who has seen the trailers for Amsterdam you’re likely aware of the absolutely stacked cast that makes up the latest film from writer-director David O. Russell. It’s a fun cast, all of whom appear to have been having a rather good time making this film. This comes across and allows you to engage with them and become caught up within the fast-paced opening stages of the piece. It’s lucky that you’re able to engage with these performances in this way so early on as on a number of occasions throughout the 2 hour+ run-time the cast are doing a lot of the lifting in terms of keeping the audience in place throughout the sprawling, winding narrative.
O. Russell appears to acknowledge this as often characters in scenarios are focused on more than the actual narrative itself. This comes in the form of various attempted gags planted into each scene. While some lift off it’s clear that others are being pushed a bit too hard and therefore gain a slightly awkward reception, particularly in scenes and interactions which seem to simply lengthen the run-time of this not-quite murder-mystery.
We’re certainly not in the confines of a standard whodunnit with Amsterdam, while some have claimed it as a murder-mystery it doesn’t quite follow those lines or generally feel like one. We follow the pair accused of murdering the daughter (Taylor Swift) of their former commanding officer from World War One (Ed Begley Jr.), whose own death is the source of interest and confusion for them. Therefore military pals Burt (Christian Bale) and Harold (John David Washington) set out to find the real culprit and prove their innocence before it’s too late. An aim which leads them back to an old friend from their military days, nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie) who helped the pair in Amsterdam over ten years earlier towards the end of the war. There they formed a close bond and pact, both of which appear to have been broken over time.
Not much time is spent exploring this point as the trio rush around exploring the increasingly complex and wide-spreading murder plot at the core of the film. Figures from their past – including government intelligence and part-time glass salesmen Henry (Michael Shannon) and Paul (Mike Myers) – begin to reappear or provide assistance. As things progress you begin to notice the cracks and weaknesses within the screenplay, particularly when it comes to the amount of elements that it deals with as additions and details linked to the main narrative. It becomes more apparent that the initial engagement you create with the ensemble cast (which also includes the likes of Zoe Saldana, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Chris Rock, Andrea Riseborough and more) is the biggest factor of your engagement with the film.
There are entertaining moments dotted throughout the film. Often held within pacier sequences which still manage to hold the relatively lighter, breezy tone of the film. A transition from the entertaining opening stages to a lengthy, explanatory flashback sequence demonstrates the fluctuations of the film early on. Demonstrating early on that your connection with the fun ensemble cast keeps you generally engaged with the film. Perhaps without them this would have ended up as something more alike to the patchy screenplay.
Despite its winding narrative and the increasingly noticeable weakness of the screenplay the early connection you form with the fun ensemble cast which leads the film, and at times the scenarios within it, manages to lift Amsterdam and stop it running off the rails.