|Reviews & Columns|
TV on DVD
Reviews by Studio
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
The M.O.D. Squad
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search|
Customer Service #'s
Just like Chinatown, the city of Amsterdam in Amsterdam isn't as relevant to the title as what it represents. Chinatown represents an unknown and incomprehensible evil in people, while Amsterdam stands for forces of camaraderie that fight against such incomprehensible evil.
The city is the backdrop for the intimate bond and love between two World War I veterans, the aloof doctor Burt (Christian Bale) and his steadfast best friend Harold (John David Washington), as well as a free spirit of a nurse named Valerie (Margot Robbie, whose grounded performance keeps the character from coming across as a manic pixie dream girl).
Leaving the ugliness and senseless carnage of the war, the trio finds solace in Amsterdam, using the city's name as a signifier of peace and love. The chemistry between the three actors and writer/director David O. Russell's love for his characters makes it a joy to just watch them exist together. They are at peace as they engage in their art and feed on their compassion for one another while the outside world keeps plunging into conflict and fear.
Amsterdam is an intricately plotted whodunit at its heart, there's no doubt about that. But the plot, which raises the stakes incrementally until a small-scale murder mystery takes on deadly and global conflicts and conspiracies, wouldn't be as fascinating without Russell's adherence to the characters and the earnest themes of love versus fear that the film proposes.
As Burt and Harold are caught up in the mysterious death of their wartime mentor (Ed Begley Jr.) and the shocking murder of his daughter (Taylor Swift), they eventually reteam up with Valerie years after their adventures in Amsterdam. Russell expertly paces the rising of the tension and the raising of the stakes, until the third act drags us into a standoff that has global consequences the way it would have in an MCU outing.
Yet at the center of it is a call for sanity that's delivered through Russell's trademark dark and ironic humor, as well as the emotional core that the relationship between the three main characters brings to such an insane and intentionally convoluted plot. Russell tends to be a cold and calculated director, engaging in the human condition from the perspective of an observer.
That's what makes his uncharacteristically earnest exploration of good versus evil so refreshing. What could have come across as a preachy treatise from an elite filmmaker too far up his own ass instead becomes a tender and engaging look into a black-and-white moral view of the world that ends up fitting the film's tone like a glove.
Amsterdam won't be an easy sell for Russell. His tone is unique, but it also bounces between slapstick comedy, very morbid humor, and an honest-to-goodness conspiracy thriller. It's structured in a way that takes turns between an intimate character drama and a madcap whodunit. But within the confusion is a film full of gusto and energy that can't be denied.
Russell's film isn't perfect by any means. It could have been easily trimmed by about fifteen minutes. There's a bizarre tendency for Russell to use dialogue that spells out what we have just seen. His overuse of slow dolly shots as each character delivers a long backstory monologue also becomes tiresome after a while. Nevertheless, Amsterdam is the unique genre exercise that revels in the fact it's not really a genre exercise at its core in the first place, but a deft and hilarious study of the dark and light corners of human nature.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com