Amsterdam is the kind of misfire that only talented people could make. It's neither incompetent nor ill-conceived. But despite all its strengths, it never holds together.
Let's start with the good. On a technical level, the film is basically flawless. The make-up, costuming and production design are all stunning. Daniel Pemberton's score is my favorite of the year. And none of these terrific actors are giving bad performances.
Unfortunately, they're all in service of a screenplay that's at once overblown and underwritten. No one in the large ensemble cast really makes an impression. Bale and Robbie are strong as usual. But Washington is let down by a script that forces him to fit into whatever the story needs at a given moment, never letting him be an real character with his own motivations. Everyone else is, at best, a checklist of quirks and mannerisms.
David O. Russell's conspiracy dramedy works only in fits and starts. An early section, when our trio lives a life of excess in the titular Dutch capital, runs on pure charm and good vibes. It's a world you want to step inside. But once each member drifts slowly back to the United States, and find themselves in the midst of international intrigue, the film starts burning off its goodwill.
The story - loosely inspired by an actual silent coup attempt - is far too shaggy to keep up the pace and energy required for a caper like this. It should be breezy and bounce from one crazy twist to the next. Instead, every time a new character is introduced, there are increasingly creaky attempts at wordplay. Subplots about birding, amateur pharmacology and "nonsense songs" go nowhere, taking up time for no real reason. By the time an assassination attempt takes place, any sense of stakes has evaporated.
There's a good story about friendship and resisting fascism somewhere in here, but this circuitous telling obscures it. Amsterdam is not the place.