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Amsterdam

****
2022

‘…maybe the critical masses will shrug at such a heady a mix of 30’s style and 70’s cynicism, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy Amsterdam on the sly…’

David O’Russell’s latest film is yet another period mystery film, which immediately triggers negative thoughts of homage and pastiche. We’re fully stocked on both at the moment, so it’s a pleasant surprise to find that although the setting is society New York between the wars, Amsterdam plays out more like a 70’s conspiracy thriller in a 30’s art-deco style, and one with a specific political intent. Making grand statements in cinema is usually reserved for safe issues, so Amsterdam’s edginess may be distracting for those expecting award-friendly posturing, but this is a diversion down a rabbit hole of anti-establishment conspiracy theories and attempts to install a dictator in the White House that offer a sinister ring of truth.

Like O’Russell’s Abscam romp American Hustle, Amsterdam takes inspiration from a specific event (1933’s The Business Plot or Wall Street Putsch) but at heart is the story of an adventurous trio; Christian Bale as surgeon Burt Berenson, John David Washington as his friend and legal representation Harold Woodsman and Margot Robbie as Valerie Voze, a nurse with a penchant for making art from the shrapnel and bullets she removes from injured soldiers during WWI. The trio spend a brief, idyllic sojourn in Amsterdam after the war ends, but years later, gravity pulls them back to New York, to Berenson’s wife, and to Voze’s moneyed, disapproving family who take a dislike to Woodsman. Amsterdam remains a largely unseen happy place in their minds, one that the characters hold as an ideal against the encroaching murk around them…

Amsterdam’s tricky narrative properly kicks into gear when one of Berensen‘s clients is murdered during the course of a black-ops autopsy that he’s asked to perform. Understanding who has been murdered and why leads the trio into a political narrative in which well-monied corporate powers are seeking help with their fake news messaging, with a view to ultimately eliminating the pesky elections which ruin their commercial projections. What’s uncovered is very much running parallel to today’s on-going events, not just in the US, making this very much a film that has something revealing to say about now. But this isn’t a civics lecture, with sparky turns from Rami Malek, Chris Rock, yer actual Taylor Swift, Anya–Taylor Joy, Michael Shannon, Alessandro Nivola and more, leading up to a big performance from Robert De Niro as a general whose influence may offer a pivotal historic moment of vulnerability.

Amsterdam seems deliberately diffuse and stagey at times, with long dialogue scenes and a raft of quirky characters and allusions, but most of these threads get pulled together for a charged climax. The usual clichés are unexplored; Berenson has one eye, and is easily identifiable, so there’s little sneaking around and more polite conversation in plain sight. Our heroes are out in the open, but so are the villains, and that adds to the cat and mouse game that unfolds, making Amsterdam a rare literate proposition from Hollywood. O’Russell skips many of the jazzy trappings of his previous work, but comes out with something that might just be for the ages; an adult thriller in which love and fellowship conquers man’s baser natures, but potentially only until the internet age comes around and corporate interests finally gain control. Maybe the critical masses will shrug at such a heady a mix of 30’s style and 70’s cynicism, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the pleasures of Amsterdam on the sly…

Thanks to Disney for providing big screen advanced access to Amsterdam, out in cinemas from Friday Oct 7th 2022 in UK and US.

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  1. This one is a puzzle to me. The cast is awesome. The trailer is pretty good. But man, some of the first reviews on this have in some cases been brutal. I think yours is the most positive I’ve seen so far. Still keeping an open mind about seeing it at the theatre. Did I mention the cast is awesome?

    • That is one top notch cast. But yes, a lowly 25 pecent on RT suggests a turkey. I can’t explain what other people don’t like about it, but I really dug it, and I do hope people will turn up with an open mind, because this film goes off in some unexpected, but worthwhile directions. Maybe not for the Marvel/Star Wars crowd, but it’s a proper movie if you love old school, grown-up cinema…

    • Is the correct answer. Great cast, original story, bags of style and a secret history. What’s not to like?

  2. Thought this was going to be an adaptation of the McEwan novel. Your write-up made it sound interesting, but that trailer turned me off. Didn’t recognize Robbie from that pic.

    How does this compare to Amsterdamned?

      • I put in a link to the trailer, but haven’t seen it. Does it not look good? I generally avoid seeing any of a film before I watch the whole think…

          • Yup, and maybe I’ve given away more than I should, but the first half of the film I was like; this is all very well, but where is it going? But it really does have a punchline, and that won’t be in the trailer.

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