As a mystery, David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam” (R, 134 minutes, opens Oct. 6 in theaters) is nothing special.
So why did I love it from start to finish?
Part of it has to do with its messages, which writer-director Russell spells out.
1. True love is based on choice, not need.
2. Live life for the beautiful things.
3. Love isn’t enough. You’ve got to fight to protect kindness.
Also, strongly implied, is maybe the most important message of all: Do what you’ve gotta do, whether it’s out of friendship or to protect the Constitution.
That’s right, the Constitution. “Amsterdam” is blatantly political, especially in the concluding scenes, during which Robert De Niro’s character, a highly decorated general, serves as Russell’s mouthpiece by delivering a speech warning of greed, corruption in high places and attacks on democracy.
If that doesn’t sound familiar, then, of course, you haven’t been paying attention. Some will say the speech is preachy, heavy-handed. Guilty as charged. But here, in these times and in this movie, it seems appropriate – and quite stirring.
Aside from that, this offbeat film-noir dramedy, based on real occurrences, is just entertaining.
The story involves three friends – Burt Berundsen (Christian Bale), Harold Woodman (John David Washington) and Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) – who first meet during World War I. The three live a Bohemian life together in Amsterdam after the war, but when Burt and Harold are drawn back to the United States, they lose track of Valerie.
It’s now 1933, in New York. Burt, who lost an eye in the war, helps war vets by fixing disfigured faces and providing “experimental medicine” (which he first tests on himself). Harold is a lawyer, also devoted to his fellow vets. After Harold involves Burt in a case involving a mysterious woman (Taylor Swift, who holds her own as an actress), they are both framed for a murder. While trying to clear their names and solve the mystery, they are reunited with their beloved Valerie.
Bale, looking a bit like the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (but with a glass eye that occasionally pops out), gives what we’ve come to expect from him every time out: a jaw-droppingly amazing performance in which the actor disappears, chameleon-like, into his character. In this case, that character, the quirky Burt, also happens to be consistently funny.
Washington and Robbie also are quite good in less flamboyant roles, and the film sports a who’s-who of a supporting cast, all in fine form as an assortment of colorful noirish characters: De Niro, Swift, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola (especially amusing as a dimwitted cop), Rami Malek, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Shannon and Mike Myers.
The story doesn’t pull together as satisfyingly as I would like. The parts are greater than the whole. But, oh, those parts. ***½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.