Amsterdam review – turn of the screw in the star-studded confusion of David O Russell | Movies

JHere’s usually no more heartbreaking way to start a movie than with the slippery, slippery ad: “Based on a true story – mostly!” or “The following is exactly right – a little!” This usually means the film will fall between the two stools marked “creatively interesting” and “factually informative”. However, David O Russell begins his complicated Amsterdam mystery by stating, “A lot of things actually happened.” He means the movie is a goofy riff on the little-known 1933 “White House Putsch” in which a cabal of wealthy American businessmen conspired to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt, hoping to trick a retired major general named Smedley Butler into leading his fascist veterans. ‘ organism. (Perhaps the closest British equivalent was Lord Mountbatten approached in 1968 by a group of establishment bigwigs to overthrow Labor Prime Minister Harold Wilson.)

Amsterdam imagines three innocent veterans drawn into these chilling shenanigans. Christian Bale plays Burt Berendsen, a disabled ex-soldier who lost an eye during World War I; After The Big Short, this is Bale’s second “glass eye” role. Burt is a doctor in New York City, providing painkillers and prosthetics to other veterans for free. Burt’s Army buddy, Harold Woodman (John David Washington), is now a qualified attorney and helps him host a gala dinner for veterans. And the two men’s kindred spirit is the mercurial and brilliant Valerie Voze, played by Margot Robbie, who during the First World War was a volunteer nurse and a Dadaist artist who saved all the shrapnel she extracted from the broken bodies of soldiers to create bizarre works of found object art. .

Valerie took Burt and Harold for a glorious bohemian retreat in Amsterdam where they did nothing but party, but then she mysteriously disappeared. And now back in New York in 1933, Burt and Harold witness the bizarre death of the daughter of a prominent American general and find themselves in connection with a murder. they need the help of another top soldier, General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), and Valerie dramatically reappears.

There are some great supporting turns here, which periodically break the surface of this movie’s soupy weirdness. Rami Malek is very funny as Tom, Valerie’s silky rich brother, who is always charming and insinuating. Mike Myers is entertaining as MI6 agent Paul Canterbury, who for no good reason in one scene does the “sand dance” of Wilson, Keppel and Betty, surely the first time it’s been seen on film since the scene of overture to Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners. Andrea Riseborough is sleek and stylish as Burt’s posh wife Beatrice, and Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola poke fun at two lumpen cops.

When it comes to leads, the best is John David Washington, who pursues a foreign policy to his partners: less is more. His performance is cool, unflappable, and his on-camera skill is very seductively understated. Bale and Robbie do bigger, wider comedy, and often there’s not quite the material in the script to back it up – although Bale does have a good bit when Burt takes a new morphine painkiller at the cutting-edge technology via eye drops, starts talking about how unreliable these things are, then suddenly cuts off: “Oh, that’s fast!”

But there’s something oddly heavy and hazy about Amsterdam that makes it feel like it’s at odds with the lightness and agility needed for a caper. This is the reality of the story, which the film makes explicit in the end credits: the grim reality of American proto-fascism naturally means the comedy won’t be too light, though the darkness of that story means that This is not the case. t immediately clear. Well, it’s got some really good performances, and Washington has taken another step toward A-list greatness.

Amsterdam releases October 7 in the US and UK.