Writer-director David O. Russell’s new film Amsterdam may be his most ambitious work to date. It is a period piece moving back and forth between WWI, immediately afterward, and its aftermath in the early 1930s. It’s also a murder mystery, a love story, a warning about fascism, and a rather edgy art film about unconventional friendships. It’s highly entertaining, and even though it was two hours and 14 minutes long, I never felt bored or impatient at the recent screening for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Society.
That being said, it may be Russell’s most ambitious work, but it’s unfortunately not his best. Of course, he’s made some fabulous films in his career, including Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, and Flirting With Disaster, so there’s a high bar that he doesn’t quite reach with his latest.
The cast is outstanding — it stars Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington — but the scope of the story is so big that some of the smaller character moments get lost in the action. There’s soooo much talent and soooo much story! Frankly the small moments are better than most of the action and should have been given their due. Especially with a stellar cast of supporting actors, including Robert De Niro and Anya Taylor-Joy (whose scenes together are worth the price of admission), as well as Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, and Ed Begley Jr.
I was entertained by the movie, but I didn’t love it the way I hoped I would.
All that creative energy on view in the film was also in evidence during David O. Russell’s Q&A with SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling after the screening, which made for a fascinating interview with a writer-director who is always worth watching, even when he’s not at his best.
Here’s the link to their interview: