David O. Russell’s latest outing, Amsterdam, seems like a reflection of his style — brilliant, busy and bizarre. The mercurial director behind critical and commercial successes including The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, has reunited with Christian Bale for this conspiracy thriller/period drama/comic caper/social satire.
Written by Russell, Amsterdam, set in 1933 New York, is based on the Business Plot, an alleged bid to put a military dictator in the White House in place of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Narrated in part by war veteran and experimental doctor Burt (Bale), Amsterdam finds him in Europe at the tail end of World War I in 1918, where he meets fellow soldier, Harold Woodman (John David Washington). When the two are grievously injured, they meet the unconventional nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), who according to Burt is “brilliant and nuts, but our kind of nuts”.
The three strike up a close friendship and move to Amsterdam. Valerie and Woodman start a relationship while Burt continues to hold a candle for his estranged wife Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough), even though it was her parents who encouraged him to enlist as medals would help him “fit in” with their snooty crowd.
Missing Beatrice, Burt returns to the US and gets into all sorts of trouble. Woodman follows Burt to get him out of jail and also to study to become a lawyer. Valerie vanishes without a trace. Burt and Woodman work together to help veterans with whatever medical and legal help they can.
Life putters on for fifteen years till Elizabeth Meekins (Taylor Swift) asks Burt to do an autopsy on her father, senator Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), as she suspects his death was not due to natural causes. Burt and Woodman served under Meekins in WWI. The autopsy sets off a chain of events that has the three friends uncover a gigantic, global conspiracy.
Amsterdam’s greatest strength is its ensemble cast with the period details coming a very close second. Apart from virtuoso performances by Bale, Robbie and Washington, there is Robert De Niro as the decorated general Gil Dillenbeck, Rami Malek as silky, silly Tom, Valerie’s industrialist brother, and Anya Taylor-Joy as his wife Libby, with tightly dressed hair and a huge crush on Dillenbeck. Chris Rock is Burt and Woodman’s smart-talking Army buddy Milton, Zoe Saldaña plays the quietly determined autopsy nurse Irma, and Timothy Olyphant is the hitman who inconveniently pops up at inopportune moments.
Michael Myers and Michael Shannon, as the part-time glass eye manufacturers (they give Burt a supply of hazel-green ones) and ornithologists, and full-time spies, are a hoot as are Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts as the detectives in charge of the case.
While there has been some criticism about the plot being too busy and trying to say too many things, part of Amsterdam’s charm is its “everything, everywhere, all at once” vibe.
‘Amsterdam’ is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar