“Amsterdam” made its splash online long before it came out in theaters as a result of its star-studded cast. Featuring the likes of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Taylor Swift, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek and Robert De Niro, the film was not short on talent. Unfortunately, it ended up being short on good reviews.
“Amsterdam,” directed by David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle”) is a historical mystery set in 1930s New York — and only partially in Amsterdam, as the title may suggest. It follows a twisting plot of two World War I veterans (Christian Bale and John David Washington) and their friend Valerie (Margot Robbie) attempting to solve the murder of a decorated military general after they’re framed for the murder of his daughter (Taylor Swift). But what seems to be a local mystery soon turns into an international political conspiracy surrounding the rise of Nazism in the United States and Germany. The plot of the film is based on a true story, but the characters are all original.
The movie has been criticized for its “ambitious jigsaw puzzle of a plot” that is “almost impossible to follow” and for being “simultaneously overstuffed and undernourished,” relying too much on its big-name cast. But outside of the world of film criticism, is the movie worth a watch?
The art direction and costuming of Amsterdam invoke a whimsical feel, and the characters, while requiring some suspension of belief, are often easy to love — or fun to hate. The actors manage to take ordinary people and emphasize the extraordinary found in all of them. The plot may seem somehow both complicated and predictable, but following the characters through the worlds they’ve carved for themselves out of New York and Amsterdam is interesting and entertaining. Watching “Amsterdam” as a character-driven film instead of strictly a plot-based one allows the viewer to see the fantastic or surreal in places they may never have searched for it.
Beyond solving the murder and clearing their name, the main characters all have their own smaller — but no less real — desires and dreams that the conspiracy puts into peril. These storylines are what make the movie worth a watch. While the overarching mystery may seem heavy-handed or obvious in the message it’s sending, making these messages obvious leaves the director wiggle room to explore the more subtle messages embedded in subplots or relationships between the characters where the answers aren’t as clear.
“Amsterdam” may not be the new mind-bending, Oscar-winning masterpiece of “Memento” (2000); and it may not be the new campy whodunnit embodied by the likes of “Clue” (1985). With a 6.1/10 rating from IMDb, it is disappointing after seeing the cast list and production costs. It lands somewhere in between a serious film and a campy classic, invoking the suspension of disbelief similar to Wes Anderson films such as “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was originally a box office flop that opened to mixed reviews, but went on to become a cult classic due to its offbeat nature and big-name cast. It’s entirely possible a similar path awaits for “Amsterdam,” especially once the casting becomes nostalgic to viewers, rather than trendy.
Whether it grows to become a cult classic or fades into cinematic history, “Amsterdam” is definitely one of the more original productions of 2022. For people who enjoy the quirky, whimsical feel of ordinary people taking on an extraordinary conspiracy, the film is definitely worth a look.