(2022) (Christian Bale, John David Washington) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Dramedy: Two 1930s-era friends uncover a nefarious plot while trying to clear their names as suspects in a murder they didn't commit.
It's 1933 and doctor Burt Berendsen (CHRISTIAN BALE) and lawyer Harold Woodman (JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON) are best friends who met in Europe in WWI when Burt was tasked with leading an all-black soldier unit that included Harold and Milton King (CHRIS ROCK) among others.
Burt and Harold ended up badly wounded in the war and were nursed back to health by Valerie Voze (MARGOT ROBBIE), with the three then forming a sort of three musketeers bond while relaxing in Amsterdam with the help of American spy Henry Norcross (MICHAEL SHANNON) and British spy Paul Canterbury (MIKE MYERS).
But Burt felt the need to return to the States to his wife, Beatrice (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH), who was horrified by his scarred appearance, while her upper-crust father didn't approve of him helping lowercase veterans in their neighborhood.
Now Burt continues aiding those people -- specifically with their chronic pain -- but gets a different request for help when Liz Meekins (TAYLOR SWIFT) shows up and wants him and medical examiner nurse Irma St. Clair (ZOE SALDANA) to perform an emergency autopsy on her general turned senator father. And that's because she believes he's been murdered, and with him having previously led Burt and Harold in battle, they comply.
When Burt and Harold go to give her the results, she's murdered, with the killer pinning blame on them, causing them to go on the run. That makes them the prime suspects in the eyes of detectives Getweiler (MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS) and Hiltz (ALESSANDRO NIVOLA) and thus the friends must set out to clear their names.
As they try to get help from Valerie's rich brother, Tom (RAMI MALEK), and wife, Libby (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY) and General Gil Dillenbeck (ROBERT DE NIRO), they uncover something far more nefarious than they expected.
- OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
The old saying "too much of a good thing" can apply to almost anything. Too much ice cream will make you fat, while too much exercise will eventually wear your body down and could leave you dehydrated, but drinking too much water in response can actually kill you. Too much of giving such examples could get old after a while.
The saying crossed my mind while watching "Amsterdam" both in terms of the genres and topics it stuffs into its 130-some minute runtime as well as the sheer number of recognizable stars in its cast. While writer/director David O. Russell's flicks -- such as "American Hustle" -- are often brimming with such name performers, this one is so stuffed to the gills that it becomes something of a distraction as you wonder who might show up next.
Even for someone who's not a huge movie buff, there are at least thirteen actors and actresses that most people could identify ranging from the likes of Christian Bale to Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, and even Taylor Swift, among others. And none of those -- or the rest -- are of the brief, throwaway cameo-type role.
Instead, they're all integral in one way or another for this mostly true-life tale that sort of feels like it could have benefited from more breathing room and time in the form of a mini-series rather than a one-off movie. Mind you, it's not awful (as the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score might otherwise make you think), and it has its moments and performances, but the story and characters also feel truncated at times.
Russell adapts a real incident that took place in the 1930s and builds fictional elements around that in what could be described as a dramedy-caper murder mystery that touches on racism, service and sacrifice to one's country, attempted sedition, and more.
The opening title states, "A lot of this really happened" and without digging in, I can't comment on the ratio of real to fabricated. But it's nonetheless disturbing -- even within the context of its lighter escapades - not to mention timely that some of what's present mirrors what's been attempted recently in the American world of political rule.
That aside, the film starts on a smaller scale as best friends Burt Berendsen and Harold Woodsman -- a doctor specializing in pain relief and prosthetics for veterans, and a black lawyer in a country still ripe and rife with racism -- find themselves in the company of the fresh corpse of their former military commander (Ed Begley Jr.). His adult daughter (Taylor Swift) believes he was murdered, and with the help of a coroner's office nurse (Zoe Saldana), Burt helps perform a rushed autopsy to look for clues.
They find them, but it's not long before the grieving daughter makes a quick exit from the film, and the two buddies find themselves as the prime suspect in a murder. That draws the attention of two detectives (Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola), one of which is one of the doc's painkiller patients.
The men then try to clear their names and find who's responsible, all of which leads to run-ins with a variety of folks. Chief among them is Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), an American ex-pat who nursed them back to health at the end of WWI and formed a trio of fun seekers in the titular city, with her and Harold ending up as lovers until she abruptly disappeared.
There are also encounters with the real killer, a wealthy man and his wife (Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy), two cross-pond spies (Mike Myers and Michael Shannon), some unnamed and treacherous power players, and a decorated Marine general (Robert De Niro). That's all while the doc hopes to fall back into good graces with his wife (Andrea Riseborough) whose wealthy father calls all of the shots and has decided he's no longer any good for her.
Various flashbacks and a few imagined scenes are peppered in from time to time, all of which means the film never bogs down in terms of running out of plot, characters, or subject matter. But it's also somewhat strangely inert despite all of that, and while it held my interest enough, I can't say I was ever mightily entertained, on the edge of my seat, or whatever the desired reaction might have been at any given moment.
The performances (especially from Bale, Washington, and Robbie) are good, but some of the other name performers don't get a lot of time to do much with their characters. All of which means the plethora of nameable bodies, topics, and styles ends up being a bit too much of a good thing for the overall offering.
I would have preferred giving all that more time to play out in a longer type of format. Thus, as it stands, "Amsterdam" is okay, but not among the filmmaker's best. It rates as a 5.5 out of 10.
Posted October 7, 2022
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