MOVIE | Banalities quench a confused film about a fascist plot in 1933
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➤ Rated R (for brief violence and bloody images)
Director David O. Russell’s new film Amsterdam opens with the statement, “A lot of this really happened.” But audiences who sit through this confused mess of a movie aren’t going to know which parts are fact and which parts are fiction. Also, they’re unlikely to care.
The movie purports to dramatize the thwarting of a fascist plot in 1933 that sought to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. But Russell, who also wrote the script, starts his story in 1918.
Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a reluctant WWI officer who befriends African American soldier Harold Woodman (John David Washington). After the war, the two wounded men fall in with eccentric nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), and the three live an idyllic life in Amsterdam.
What does this have to do with the fascist plot in 1933? Nothing. But it doesn’t stop Russell from spending almost half the movie’s 134 minutes on the trio’s madcap looniness. The story doesn’t make much more sense when the movie finally gets back to 1933.
Amsterdam’s impressive ensemble cast also includes Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro, but all this talent is wasted on an incoherent script that gets bogged down in exposition.
Russell wants the audience to draw parallels to the current political climate. But the 1933 plot, if it ever really existed, wasn’t a real threat, and his story of exposing it never occurred. When Russell’s characters start preaching anachronistic banalities like “Love over hate” and “Live your truth,” the film’s last glimmer of wit and charm gets quenched.
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