Three friends, a murder and a conspiracy, Amsterdam plays the patchworks of inspirations. What is the new creation of the director of American Hustle worth?
David O. Russel seems to have a certain fascination with large-scale conspiracies. After american bluffa whirlwind film about corruption in the 1970s, the director tells a story of friendship in the 1930s. Here again, the fate of the characters will be turned upside down when they find themselves embroiled in the heart of a vast political machination.
Burt, Valerie and Harold are old acquaintances. While their paths crossed during the First World War, on the French battlefields, they are reunited when one of their loved ones dies suddenly. Determined to shed light on this case, our three heroes then embark on a high-level investigation that will take them to the epicenter of one of the biggest American plots.
Both comedy and detective film, amsterdam is not afraid of mixing genres. The film also strives to play on several tables throughout its development, oscillating between sequences of graphic violence, excellently written verbal jousts and pure moments of investigation. Written by the director himself, the film multiplies the flashes in its first half.
We explore the past of the protagonists, the birth of a friendship tinged with shards of shrapnel, incomprehensible songs in the language of Molière and wild parties in beautiful Amsterdam. A true story in chapters, Russel’s youngest is thought in its form as in its content as a patchwork of various inspirations.
Visibly infused by some classics of the genre, Fargo for the tone or Ocean’s Eleven for rhythm, he accumulates narrative arcs and reversals. But at the heart of this vast political intrigue, it is above all the fate of the three protagonists that fascinates.
We quickly fall in love with these two broken faces who cross paths with an eccentric young nurse admirably portrayed by Margot Robbie. Moreover, the actors excel in the exercise. Christian Bale is simply perfect in the skin of the neurotic doctor, good dough and a little gullible.
As for the secondary roles, we can note the excellent performance of Anya Taylor-Joy in the skin of an unbearable aristocrat or even Rami Malek in that of her husband.
John David Washington is also doing with honors by playing the safeguards for all these beautiful people. The story of this trio who finds a way to be reborn from their ashes and to forget their traumas via an extraordinary friendship seduces. The narration also takes a tender look at their relationship. This is unfortunately the only strength of the story, which tangles the brushes on many other aspects.
The Big Picture
If it could have been content with being an amusing fable set against a historical narrative, amsterdam has bigger ambitions. The narration wants to tell one of the greatest alleged conspiracies in American history. It is in his second half that he really dwells on this question. Quickly, it appears that this one will be much less fun than the previous one.
David O. Russel gives rise to a rather ineffective police exposition. The promise of an exciting investigation is not kept, the story becomes entangled in too colossal issues and a more serious tone. This paradigm shift is also felt in the rhythm, the film of more than two hours could easily have passed under the bar of the hour and a half.
David O. Russel pulls and stretches his narrative process, while the outcome is excruciatingly predictable. Worse, amsterdam gets bogged down in long explanatory sequences, melodramatic monologues on the power of love and unmaskings à la scooby-doo. The antagonists’ plan would have gone off without a hitch if these little snoops hadn’t put their noses in the wrong places.
However, on paper, the idea was suddenly brilliant. At a time of political polarization in the United States as elsewhere, the idea of exploring the moment when America almost fell apart at the dawn of the second war was more than interesting. On this point, amsterdam succeed in his business. However, the filmmaker’s canvas lacks nuances.
David O. Russel is a good image craftsman, he has proven it many times. He does not fail in his reputation behind the camera of this new film. He also repeatedly deconstructs the prerogatives of period film to offer it a double reading, and to have fun with the viewer. Reel that is destroyed or gaze camera, Amsterdam strives to break the fourth wall to gain relevance.
Even in the way it treats its characters, the film is a curious object from which it is very difficult to look away. the filmmaker films the bodies with great precision, focusing particularly on the vestiges of the Great War. A little like the Dada movement, from which he draws inspiration and which he even invites into his story, he rejects aesthetic values by using unflattering camera angles.
Make-up is also particularly honored and helps to makeamsterdam a curious but fascinating beast. As for the costumes, everything is a little less exuberant.
It should be noted that the director brings a lot of importance to his light, the film is particularly successful in this sense. It also characterizes the 1930s quite well, at least as ordinary mortals imagine them.
Very good visual copy from amsterdam comes into its own when punctuated by Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer of the original music of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse embraces all the comic and light dimension of the story, but also knows how to pay homage to its more dramatic or mysterious impulses.
To tell the truth, he sometimes saves the narration which gets bogged down in the melodramatic, with striking and inspired sound compositions. The musician has fun, the spectators too. Within the score, it is also the great stylistic gap, reflecting the too many tones of the story.
David O. Russell misses his return with a bang with this film which nevertheless promised to establish itself as one of the most significant of this year 2022. Despite the visual promise kept, an imperial cast and an equally stunning music, amsterdam sounds like a little mess. The film wants to use the past to tell the present, but never manages to combine its intentions other than the imperfect.