If nothing else can be said for “Amsterdam,” the cast is a collection of some of the best to do it.

We live in a period where the truest stories may be too hard to believe. It’s not just that conspiracy theories have received mainstream credibility, it’s that the decisions to voice and behave in the worst possible manner in public or private is practically normalized to the point where consequences are a thing of the past. It was frightening before this became real and it’s far more frightening now as those who would deem others “unworthy” or “beneath them” continue to rise in the ranks of business and politics, making the world less safe and free. On January 6th, 2021, the whole world watched as an attempted coup took place and, in less than a year, it’s already appropriated a “the South will rise again” vestige and legacy. But the time of greedy capitalists and ethically broken politicians isn’t a new concept and it’s here that writer/director David O. Russell finds the seed from which to grow his latest star-studded project, Amsterdam, which is on digital now and coming to physical formats on December 6th.


L-R: John David Washington as Harold, Christian Bale as Burt, and Margot Robbie as Valerie in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. Photo by Merie Weismiller. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

1930’s New York City. Two friends, Dr. Burt Berendsen and attorney Harold Woodman, Esq. (Christian Bale and John David Washington, respectively), are hired by Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift), the daughter of their former unit commander General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), to investigate the untimely passing of her father. What these two outsiders don’t realize is that by helping to look into the death of their friend, they’ve stumbled into a nefarious plot whose reach goes beyond the streets NYC and out into the world.

Though this is an initial review for Amsterdam, and these tend to be spoiler-free on EoM, in order to discuss Amsterdam properly, certain details as they relate to the plot will be discussed. If you’d like to learn about what’s included with the home release and only that, scroll quickly to the image of Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Margot Robbit for that information.

The central story around which Amsterdam is built is that a real general, Gil Dillenbeck, was sought to become the face of a new movement to overtake then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and lead the country into a different direction. This is fascinating and terrifying all at once, as though the U.S., not only dodged a bullet, but avoided a deadly poisoning while the European chessboard was still being repaired after World War I. While this is a major aspect to the narrative, it’s also the thing that Berendsen and Woodman must deduce on their own given the mystery component of the film. The trick is that where this bit of intrigue makes for a reason for the audience to lean in, the whole of the film, despite dealing with racism, classism, the terrible habit of the U.S. to mistreat its veterans, and ableism, can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a drama, the wobbles across the genre line often not working within the scenework in the moment. This results in many of the fine performances from the star-studded cast to feel like each one is in a different movie, all within the same scene. Comedy does have a way to cut through tension and Bale does some fine character work here, yet there’s something about the tonal switches throughout the film that prevents the audience from ever really feeling like Berendsen, Woodman, and their compatriot Valerie (Margot Robbie) are in proper danger. (These three will be referred to as “the trio” when discussing them as a group moving forward)  You know, the kind of danger coming from a complex coterie lurking in the shadows, ready to kill anyone who doesn’t align in their values.

Complicating matters for the audience are the two love stories running throughout the film. The first is between Woodman and Valerie, two individuals who met in a French-run hospital (he a wounded soldier, she the nurse who removed shrapnel from him) and who both leave for Amsterdam with Berendsen. Then Valerie disappears from Woodman’s life after doing a favor for him that helps get Berendsen out of trouble in New York City. There’s never any doubt about their (Woodman and Valerie’s) affection for another and the script never makes their relationship discord about differences in race (something worth crediting), but even her disappearance is treated as a minor conflict in order to ensure that the momentum of the mystery doesn’t stop. Similarly, Berendsen has his own love story in which his wife, Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough), claims to love him yet cares so much for status and her father’s approval that they’ve lived separated from each other for more than a decade. The conflict here is mostly subtext unexplored (Berendsen is requested to go to war by his father-in-law, who doesn’t care for the half-Jewish doctor despite providing a scholarship to help the underprivileged go to medical school that Berendsen happened to win, which is obviously a ploy to try to get the man killed and out of his daughter’s life) and Berendsen is left to spend most of the film trying to figure out how to get his wife back despite the clarity of neither being happy with one another due to current class views. Honestly, the only relationship that feels particularly real is one the audience sees for a split-second, and it’s between Robert De Niro’s General Dillenbeck and Beth Grant’s Mrs. Dillenbeck as she teases the trio who’ve come to see General Dillenbeck for aid, and the General leans into it. The relationships between the characters matter and the proper weight of the narrative comes from the bond of the trio, something built through their time at war and in Amsterdam, and the audience believes in that love and support system. The rest is a tad harder, especially when the stakes keep ratcheting higher and higher and the comedy/drama don’t align.


L-R: Rami Malek as Tom, Anya Taylor-Joy as Libby, and Margot Robbie as Valerie in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

As this is a home release review, let’s turn to the sole bonus feature, “Welcome to Amsterdam.” Be advised that it’s limited to where it can be viewed. For instance, Searchlight Pictures provided a digital code in order for me to complete this home release review and the only way to view it was through MoviesAnywhere, despite also having access on iTunes. One can presume that the physical formats will include it, but there’s currently no way to confirm at the time of this writing. As far as the featurette itself, it’s a mixture of on-set footage and talking head interviews from Russell, Bale, Robbie, and Washington. The on-set footage allows the home viewing audience get a sense of what’s real versus computer-generated, even going so far in the latter part of the featurette to explore the sets, costumes, cinematography, and other aspects which make up the visual style of the film. The bulk, though, focuses on the trio leading the film, with each one providing their thoughts on the other. If you enjoy Amsterdam at all, this featurette will enhance that appreciation.

There’s no doubt that Amsterdam is comprised of a collection where the fight for top-billing or audience draw is a free-for-all. You’ve got Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night in Soho) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as the influential married couple who are instrumental in pointing Berendsen and Woodman to General Dillenbeck as a possible way out for their troubles. Riseborough (Mandy/Possessor) is perhaps the only actor that could give Beatrice some range despite the tight confinement of character, and Zoe Saldaña (The Adam Project) plays the medical expert Irma St. Clair who provides not only the expertise needed to determine if General Meekins was murdered while demonstrating that not all interested women see Berendsen only for his war wounds, delivering a quiet strength she excels in. Timothy Olyphant (Justified) is barely recognizable in his makeup and vocal drawl, Mike Meyers (Wayne’s World) and Michael Shannon (The Night Before) play the secretive odd couple in a way that offers levity through their eccentricity. And yet, despite all this talent, that none seem to be in the same film at times and that the narrative struggles to maintain its tension result in the audience not particularly caring who lives and who dies. When the ideals of a country are at stake, this is a major problem.


L-R: Michael Shannon as Henry Norcross, Mike Myers as Paul Canterbury, Christian Bale as Burt Berendsen, Chris Rock as Milton King, and Robert De Niro as General Gil Dillenbeck in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. Photo by Merie Weismiller. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Maybe it’s the fact that American democracy is at a crossroads where every election is questioned, where politicians seem more intent on their own gains versus those of their constituents, and where corporations have more rights than the people who work for them, watching the truth of Amsterdam get played for folly just doesn’t work. It looks beautiful and Daniel Pemberton (Motherless Brooklyn/The Bad Guys) provides another great score, but it’s all set dressing on a film one never really connects with in a meaning way.

Amsterdam Special Features:

  • Welcome to Amsterdam* (15:30)

*bonus features vary by product and retailer

Available on digital November 11th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD December 6th, 2022.

Final Score: 2 out of 5.


Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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