Review: “Amsterdam” Has An Uncharming And Confusing Plot

"Amsterdam" has its short comings, Patrick Boyd Richardson opines./20th Century Studios

By Patrick Boyd Richardson

 

   “Amsterdam” (2022) is a long, tedious movie with too many moving parts. Ordinarily, a classic film should have a swath of bells and whistles to embellish the total enjoyment of the particular narrative and audiovisual experience. However, “Amsterdam” is a dead-weight dud of a film and does not hit any needed mark in the culture whatsoever.

   The film takes place in the 1930s, where a trio of friends witness a crime, become suspects, and later get involved in one of America’s secret plots. Christian Bale, who plays the lead Burt Berendsen, fails for unforeseeable reasons: his character is annoying. While he has this plausible deniability of being intelligent since he is a 1930s physician, his actual visage is that of a buffoon who third wheels a romantic duo for the bulk of the film.

   Margot Robbie plays a convincing love interest with John David Washington. But the rapport they have feels stale, and the acting on Washington’s part is overly deadpan and uninspired. This strangely clashes with the try-hard antics provided by Bale who unashamedly plays up his character’s eccentricities in what could only be described as a performative disaster.

   The uncharming trio has a hard time bonding as an acting team just as their quaint war-time soiree is evidently contrived and, again, uninspired.

   I had a really difficult time understanding how the call to save disfigured veterans from a world that didn’t accept them gelled in any way with the mystery subplot laden throughout this incredibly tedious and self-aggrandizing film. Is it a period film? A noir? A comedy? All three? I could never tell as the dramatic arc really never launches or lands – in fact, it doesn’t exist.

   The set pieces are worthwhile, the costumery is on fire with how precise it is. The language seems dimly anachronistic. The location frequently does not match Amsterdam. However, Timothy Oliphant does play a dynamic villain, and the scene where he fatally pushes an informant into a moving car, all to blame the two male leads, was simply brilliant.

   This movie leans too much on its WWI wartime sob stories which feel unduly out of place in a film revolving around WWII and New York City crime. I blame this on a bad acting team that seemed to lack connection and almost certainly brought down the film’s emotionality. Even a minor role played by superstar Chris Rock was reduced to a cinematic end-note, despite his many, many points of credential as an entertainer who can comedically joust.

   Fundamentally, “Amsterdam” is a conglomeration of really good ideas into a psychedelically uncomfortable film. A crime-solving team of a doctor with a lawyer – excellent. A romantic triangle that meets in an army field hospital – cool. The main character is missing his eye and has a funky prosthetic one – wild. And I can definitely go on. Suffice it to say, this movie was about way too many things at once. Because of this fault, it seemed to magically just lack focus. You could even tell the actors were somehow aware of this too, making “Amsterdam” that much more disappointing. 

   I can say that even with all its convolution, had the film been shortened and the exposition in the first act been lessened, it would have turned out to be a brilliant concept film. This is especially appealing since it really is a bonafide period film that acrobatically juggles some novel ideas. However, it expects way too much empathy and historical contextual understanding from the audience. In all,  “Amsterdam” was dense, uncharming, wild, and fringe so that the film could safely be labeled in one word: pedantic.

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