David O’Russell is a director who delivers unique and brilliant aspects to his directing style. With Amsterdam, O’Russell brings a strong narrative with a variety of characters whose backgrounds are genius, who relate well, and who add pros and cons to the film’s central conflict. Amsterdam also has an inviting, catchy plot. But my issue with Amsterdam is that it’s less exciting than O’Russell’s previous films. The storyline is on par with its conflict, but the presentation just seems a bit mediocre. Despite the mediocrities, though, Amsterdam’s narrative remains concise.
Among Amsterdam’s impressive lineup of characters is Burt Berendsen (played by Christian Bale), Valerie Voze (played by Margot Robbie), Harold Woodman (played by John David Washington), Milton King (played by Chris Rock), Detective Hiltz (played by Alessandro Nivola), and other big names in the film. Of all these amazing characters, I would give Bale credit for the most brilliant acting. And not only is his characterization and performance unique, but he does the narration in many parts of Amsterdam. Burt explains his relationships with many of the other actors, and how they all go way back. O’Russell shows in Amsterdam that he knows how to keep background as a steady focus while staying in tune with the present focus.
The time frame in Amsterdam is the 1930s. For those who find the film’s characters sketchy, many of the characters have an odd background, making the film even sketchier. Three of the characters— nurse, a doctor, and a lawyer—witness a murder, and they end up being framed for the murder. The incident spawns all kinds of political and other underlying issues due to the racism of the times.
I felt like O’Russell was trying to take almost a Wes Anderson approach with this film. His narration felt at times like a version of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), one of my favorite Anderson films. At other times Amsterdam felt like a lighter version of O’Russell’s American Hustle (2013). And even though Amsterdam is less exciting than O’Russell’s other films, the much-detailed background from the narrative is vibrant.
So unlike some of O’Russell’s other films, don’t expect to jump from your seats much with Amsterdam. Again, the film has an inviting narrative, but it’s just not very exciting. It’s quirky, but not so much with the suspense or danger. In my view, Amsterdamjust lacks enthusiasm. Two and a half stars for Amsterdam.