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Christian Bale in David O. Russell’s Strange Comedy – The Hollywood Reporter

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam is a lot of movies put together into one movie – a dramatic comedy, a crime thriller, a heartfelt salutation to treaties of love and friendship, a history lesson against antisemitism. Fascist with fictional flourishes. Those competing strings all have their merits, backed up by entertaining character work from an uncommon high-powered group. But what movie can be called satisfying when the storytelling is so complex that it takes an hour or more to tackle the kind of story it wants to tell, let alone a cohesive tone to tell it? It is only once Robert De Niro emerges as a brilliant veteran embroiled in a nefarious political conspiracy that momentum begins.

De Niro has been a frequent collaborator of the director since his Oscar nomination in 2013 Silver Linings Playbook, and it was nice to see the actor bite into a playing card character near his vest. But he’s a little late to the rescue of this piece of horror.

Amsterdam

Key point

More fizz than focus.

Release date: Friday, October 7
Cast: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Saldaña, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro
Director and screenwriter: David O. Russell

R-rated, 2 hours 14 minutes

Every new Russell movie has now sparked accusations of his abuse on the Film Twitter page. But that doesn’t affect his ability to attract top talent. The cast of stars will be the main draw with this longstanding project from Fox, which through Disney, even if heeding the caveat about history repeating itself, has no shortage of contemporary relevance.

While Russell’s script introduces them in a sensational flashback structure that begins in New York in 1933 before rewinding 15 years, a trio of friends quickly form the core of the story. It’s Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), a doctor who is experimenting outside the medical setting with new pain treatments, especially for wounded veterans; jar lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington); and wealthy artist Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie).

They meet in France in 1918, and while serving in World War I, Burt is urged to join the army by the blood family of his estranged wife Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough). Her snobby parents (Casey Biggs, Dey Young) felt that being a war hero could fix his half-Jewish, half-Catholic working-class background and make him fit more in line with the family’s Park Avenue medical practice.

An unbiased man of principle, Burt agreed to serve as a medic for a Black regiment so ostracized by his white American comrades that they were forced to wear French uniforms and fight the European Allies. Europe. Both Harold and his postwar legal partner Milton (Chris Rock) served in that 369th regiment. Back then Valerie volunteered as a nurse, removing bullets and shrapnel from soldiers wounded in combat and turning metal into Surrealist art reminiscent of the work of Man Ray and others.

Their friendship reaches its sweetest point in Amsterdam, where Valerie introduces them to Paul Canterbury (Mike Myers) and Henry Norcross (Michael Shannon), British and American government intelligence officers, as well as enthusiasts. Cybernetics is thrown out of international birds. – social monitoring for stealing eggs from the nests of endangered species. Canterbury also produces glass eyes, allowing him to replace Burt’s eyes lost in combat.

All of this seems like a fussy overload of background detail, and indeed, the movie often feels like it’s piling up weirdos aiming to beat Wes Anderson. The bond that binds Burt and Harold and Valerie is pure, though tinged with the latter two’s tentative romance. But Russell’s script is too barbaric to establish the tripartite alliance forged during the journey in Amsterdam as the true heart of the film, despite its title.

The story gets even busier with the 1933 plot, starting at the gate when the kind-hearted mysterious woman Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift) contacts Burt and Harold to ask for their help. She doubts the death of her father, beloved former General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), who oversaw Squad 369 and who died under murky circumstances on a recent return voyage by ship from Europe. Europe. The general was scheduled to be a guest speaker at the upcoming New York veterans reunion dinner.

The development of Meekins opens the door to autopsy nurse Irma St. Clair (Zoe Saldaña), a love interest for Burt, even as he remains hanged over the irreconcilable chance with Beatrice.

In case the character gallery isn’t crowded enough for you, there’s also Valerie’s philanthropist brother, Tom (Rami Malek) and his wife Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy). It wouldn’t even acknowledge to most viewers that Valerie drifted out of Harold and Burt’s orbit after the war until they showed up at the Voze mansion while investigating Meekins’ death and found her Heavy injections for a neurological disorder are thought to be.

An early related crime puts Burt and Harold in the sights of World War I veterinary detective Lem Getweiler (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his flat-legged partner Det. Hiltz (Alessandro Nivola).

To be honest, it was all messy and exhausting until Burt and Harold’s investigation led them to meet Meekins’ military friend, General Gil Dillenbeck (De Niro), who lived a quiet life in the area. leafy suburb with his sly, sly wife (Beth Grant). Inspired by the legend of the Armed Forces, Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death in 1940 was the most decorated US Marine in history, Dillenbeck provides an anchor point. salute to the story, while De Niro’s stern authority in the role helps to knock out the line wandering tunes.

At the same time Burt and Harold were persuading Dillenbeck to speak at the gala dinner, he was being approached by a shadowy group of American business heavyweights from various power sectors who lacked faith in the current White House administration. at consent. arrange sinister takeover measures.

That American conspiracy has its roots in history, tied to the rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany; it’s a gripping story, despite Russell’s attempts to kill it off with excessive embellishment. The writer-director claims the film’s origins predate the recent rise of the White supremacist movement, QAnon’s spiral of madness, and far-right efforts to undermine the integrity of the world. democratic integrity of the US government. But the parallels with our current reality are unmistakable, while the admission of embarrassing footnotes like the forced sterilization clinic touches on the evils of racial “cleansing”.

In spite of Amsterdam maintaining the unwavering hopeful belief that kindness will prevail, the film is also realistic about the resilience of hatred in our political culture and the fact that the sinister masterminds of the relationship threatening jackboot is rarely punished. It makes for an emotional final act, even if the sober message doesn’t always sync with Russell’s chaotic cartoonish approach – a merciless divide reflected in the score. by Daniel Pemberton, between high intrigue and fickleness.

Visually, the film is polished, with production designer Judy Becker recreating 1930s Manhattan on New York’s Paramount Street as well as at various historic Los Angeles landmarks. JR Hawbaker and Albert Wolsky’s outfits are crafted to perfection, with special touches to Valerie’s unique beaded evening gown. And cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki brings agility, textured lighting, rich sepia tones and energetic Dutch angles to the image.

But this is mostly a character-driven movie, even if that field is so packed with people jostling for space that the material might be better suited to handling limited series. Some performances don’t have much scope to go beyond the caricature, but among the supporting characters that impress is Malek’s Tom Voze, a balance between charm and horror; Libby has two faces similar to Taylor-Joy, a climber who always enjoys surrounding De Niro’s champion; Saldaña, as wise and grounded as Irma, casually discusses the finer points of love over a corpse; and Riseborough, a girl pampered by Daddy still struggles to reconcile her feelings with her family’s expectations.

For the central trio, Washington exudes an effortless charm not always evident in his previous roles, while Robbie combines old-fashioned movie star charm with wit. Her modern, bohemian spirit makes her believable as a rebellious heiress, an artist of her own, and a woman whose heart runs by its own rules. Valerie believes in love, art, and kindness, making her the film’s unofficial mascot.

However, the nominal lead is Burt, if only because his bland monologue rates are disproportionate. Crowned with a wild curly hairdo, Bale took full advantage of being cast as a kind, bubbly, generous nature and despite his misfortunes. The actor can show a flair for the comedy genre, whether Burt is dropping out midway through an experimental dose of painkiller or is struggling to keep his eyes moving in the same direction. That restless gaze extends to the movie itself, making Amsterdam a patchwork entertainment.

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