Amsterdam is a special kind of director limbo for once-celebrated director David O. Russell. It’s a would-be proving ground for a would-be career resuscitation. Would a stable of notable actors agree to star in an ensemble vehicle from a noted abuser with a troubling history of poor treatment of his stars? It turns out they would. You never know why people do things in Hollywood or why actors’ agents choose problematic projects; sometimes it takes years for the consequences to come out but they do come out. Would the movie be profitable and critically approved showing that abuser David O Russell is a bankable and aggregate-friendly director, both for the people and for the industry? Absolutely not happening here.
This is a movie designed for a poster with a lot of stars’ names on it. It’s a stupefying list of names on the poster: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, with Rami Malek and Robert DeNiro. The two other operative questions here are whether there’s time for both a movie and all of these cameos and whether or not stars still sell movies or if it’s only high concepts and intellectual properties that do. There are exceptions but there must also be some sense of the public just noting what a film is doing there and passing on the desperate plea for attention, a tipping point where there are too many stars to process so that nobody looking at a poster could possibly have an idea of what it’s about or whether or not there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
The film is also written by known abuser David O. Russell and he simply cannot handle the breadth of what he wants to do. What he wants to do is create a three-way buddy spy drama with Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie at the center. The trio meets in Amsterdam in the 1930s during the war. Robbie plays a nurse who removes shrapnel from soldiers and makes cutely fashionable accouterments out of their near-death experiences. Washington’s character is really turned on by this but has made a pact with Bale’s character and now they must share each other in a simple love triangle. They witness a murder and are drawn into a far-reaching American conspiracy run by a shadowy cabal organization. It’s less of a whodunit than a who are they and eventually the movie just tells us who they are after we have met a hundred other characters who they aren’t. It’s a dry turkey and has no juice in the writing or deliveries which feel so abstracted from the feeling and tone of what’s happening, just a revolving door of wildly different tones and moods and takes on the material with nothing cohesive to center what everyone is doing.
If you want to find out what half of Hollywood was doing during COVID, firstly, no you don’t, and secondly, you have this bland movie to show you. It’s such tedious ensemble material where about half the movie ought to be cut but all the actors in all the scenes have far too much credibility to cut them. So self-admitted abuser David O. Russell really gets lost in the material here. He’s not able to mount a comeback with half the dramatic heft of his Oscar era nor any of the comedic chops of his early period of work. What he produces is a collage of actors finding the movie when abuser David O. Russell cannot find it. It takes a lot of time and a lot seems to happen. There are brief moments of specificity lost in the muck of unwaning generality.
Eventually, the film relentingly gives up. Abuser David O. Russell shrugs and chooses a wildly political direction. He’s an untrustworthy source perhaps, for stories about anti-fascism and anti-capitalism given his terrible working politics and the production of this cesspool of a commercial flop — there is no reason it should ever make back the $80 million it cost to make — and when you cannot trust the filmmaker, these political choices can seem startlingly insincere and manipulative. The film collects some of the best working actors to ring out with a terrible hollowness and an empty-headed screed about fascism and classism but the only thing you can read on-screen is the depth of abuser David O. Russell’s narcissism.