The majority of David O. Russell's most recent picture, "Amsterdam," zigs and zags, racing here and there but also whirling in place. It's a beautiful historical piece, a screwball imitation of the 1930s featuring mugging actors who charm and beguile as they chase down a mystery, play detective, and fall over their feet. Russell's strategy appears to be for the reader not to pay too much attention to the smaller details as the protagonists traverse a global conspiracy.
This movie, like all of Russell's previous works, is a combination of loosey-goosey and high-strung. At its core are three American buddies who met in Europe during World War I, established a deep relationship, and, as seen in a long flashback, lived in Amsterdam, where they healed (more or less) from the war and played bohemians until reality called them back home. After a dozen or so years and some personal turmoil, the three had settled into their various lifestyles in 1933. Then, Taylor Swift comes wearing a fashionable hat and red-alarm lipstick, scattering everyone and everything.
David O. Russell's films have earned a couple of the stars of Academy Award nominations, so it's no surprise that Christian Bale and Robert De Niro reunited for a new film with the always intriguing film creator. Russell's new film feels stagey (due to a lot of dialogue) and dated, moving at a snail's pace. On the plus side, the actors in the film all look fantastic thanks to excellent production design, beautifully designed costumes, attractive hairstyles, and sharp cinematography. On the other hand, the story does not do the actors and filmmakers justice and is a plot we've seen before, only better.
"Amsterdam" swings from 1933 to 1918 as it develops backstories and romantic relationships. The movie follows the misadventures of best friends Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), a rough-spoken but warm-hearted surgeon, and Harold Woodman (John David Washington), a wooden lawyer, primarily in 1933 with extended flashbacks to World War I and the years immediately following. It is a film in which no one appears to answer a straight question, brutal autopsy are done on camera followed by whimsically sung songs, and the narrative attempts profundity by stating that people "follow the wrong God home."
In the "present" plot, the best friends become entangled in a conspiracy involving the inexplicable death of their old World War I commander-turned-senator Bill Meekins, which is staged by unknown malcontents who frame the best friends for murder. Valerie, Harold's "one that got away," is reunited with them as a result of their attempts to expose the scheme and establish their innocence by identifying these culprits (Margot Robbie).