‘Amsterdam’ drags its star-studded cast through a muddled plot

2 out of 5 stars

Bringing audiences to the theater doors with the promise of their favorite A-listers, “Amsterdam,” written and directed by David O. Russell, moves much too slowly through a thick and confusing story for its notable cast to carry it along.

“Amsterdam” follows the development of the friendship between three WWI veterans: doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), lawyer Harold Woodsman (John David Washington) and artistic nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), who find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation concerning a prominent American general.

The story attempts to contrast Berendsen, Woodsman and Voze’ lives in New York with flashbacks to their idyllic life together in Amsterdam. It simultaneously tries to build an effective mystery incorporating Nazism and the rise of fascism in America.

Ultimately, the story became too confusing and detailed to enjoy, due in large part to the glacial pacing and deadpan stylistic choices that fell flat.

The strongest element of the story was the relationship between the three leads, although each individual performance had something missing.

Bale’s awkward, hunched Berendsen came across as sympathetic but over-acted, and Washington’s Woodsman was rational but bland. Robbie’s Voze was the most compelling of the three, capturing a morbidly charming artistic interest in the people around her.

The cast includes more famous names such as Robert DeNiro, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock and Zoe Saldaña, who all feel as if they were told to suppress their own abilities in keeping with the style.

DeNiro’s performance as the noble, conflicted veteran Gil Dillenbeck carried some weight, but the way he factored into the story made his presence confusing too.

There were multiple subplots that did not need to be in the movie. The entire love triangle between Berendsen, his wife (Andrea Riseborough) and a forensic nurse (Saldaña) felt forced and unnecessary. Robbie and Washington gave a stronger romantic performance, but it still felt dispassionate and drab.

Taylor Swift even makes an appearance at the beginning of the movie, lending an unremarkable performance to the daughter of the murdered general and failing to leave an impact in around 10 minutes of screen time.

Every aspect of the movie contributes to the drag, from the long continuous camera shots to the dark filters over the New York scenes. Even the main musical themes were repetitive and heavily patterned, hitting a monotone feeling no matter what scene was playing. Watching the film felt like an endurance effort.

“Amsterdam” is an example of what happens when a film has too many stars. Jamming more people into an already confusing plot just to feature more celebrities only undermines what those celebrities can do.

Photo from deadline.com.