Review: Amsterdam

Score: C

Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Robert De Niro

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rated: R

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.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.