“Amsterdam” is pure excess


There is a short list of directors working today that can acquire many A-List actors and almost immediately be assumed as an Oscar contender, and David O. Russell is among those few. Since 2011, O. Russell has been nominated for best director three times, for “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” 

While having a style that plays directly into the Academy’s sensibilities, he also has proven to make movies widely loved by audiences, with his films often being very financially successful as well as critically. Both “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook” surpassed $100 million at the domestic box office, which is uncommon for most original awards-season films. 

Russell does have the benefit of most of his films being led by a major star, with common collaborators like Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence. It seems that most of his films are sold with these stars to get audiences into the theater. 


“Amsterdam” is Russell’s latest and his first in seven years, following “Joy,” which was released in 2015. The film is easily his most star studded, with the first teaser poster literally just being all the names of the actors in the film, including Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Swift, Rami Malek and Robert De Niro. 

Very rarely has such a massive slate of talent all collaborated in a single film, which assumes that there’s no way the film wouldn’t be as successful as Russell’s previous efforts, right? Well, it seems that “Amsterdam” is set to be a major flop, as its opening weekend’s numbers are quite dismal, earning under $7 million, with the film’s budget reportedly nearing $100 million.

This seems to be a result of broad audience disinterest, as the film’s plot is far less straightforward compared to Russell’s previous works, as well as early reviews being largely negative.

But when addressing the film’s performance, as well as the gap between his last project, this also can be seen as a result of Russell’s many controversies. Without going too far in-depth, the director has been accused of sexually assaulting his niece, as well as frequent and repeated reports of the director being physically and verbally abusive towards his crew on set.  

These allegations are very serious and are not unimportant to the director’s image, as well as his relationship with actors going forward, so it is likely that this is partly the cause of the film’s poor performance. 

“Amsterdam” may be the year’s most perplexing film, as its plot is extremely convoluted, mostly by design, albeit still entertaining throughout its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. The film is supposedly based on things that “mostly” all happened, which is a not-so-sneaky way of saying barely any of it is real. 

It seems a fool’s errand to try and explain the plot of the film, except that it’s a tale of friendship between our three leads, Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington. They get caught up in being framed for a murder, which then leads into larger conspiracies. The film takes place in the 1930s, still feeling the reverberations of the first World War and the early winds of the second. 


The film is interested in the effect the first World War had on its veterans, as nearly every character in the film was in some way a part of the war. It often jumps around to different periods in our characters’ lives, running their origins alongside the main, current-day plot. 

“Amsterdam” is undeniably messy, taking on a baffling number of ideas and plotlines just within its first hour. It attempts to tackle huge historical events, philosophical ideas and an examination of the powers of society that lurk in the shadows.

It bites off far more than it can chew with certain concepts, including those as complex as budding Nazism, entering the film nearly halfway into the runtime. This makes these attempts feel severely underdeveloped and unsuccessful, even when they feel like they heighten the stakes.

The film is highly ambitious, although mostly to its own fault, as all these scattered ideas rarely come to any satisfying conclusion or statement. But they all still manage to be engaging and thought provoking, even if they’re gone within the blink of an eye. 

It has a unique tone, atmosphere and overall energy that can be overwhelming and frustrating, but I found once I let myself just go with the film’s chaotic energy, I had far more fun than attempting to deconstruct any of it. 

The final 30 minutes are dizzying in its culmination of countless, equally confusing elements but still manages to feel like something important is happening, even if you can’t quite explain what. 

If this all seems hard to wrap your head around, well that’s because it is. But despite all of the glaring flaws of “Amsterdam,” I still found myself enjoying all its twists and turns and all the big swings are still fun to admire, even if they inevitably miss. 

The material is largely elevated by the performances, as everyone involved is giving it their all. Each new vignette with its stars felt impactful, and rarely did any performance feel wasted. The actors and actresses compliment the script’s absurdity and take things that could have been far worse and turn them into something palatable. 

“Amsterdam” may not be the best thing to hit theaters this season, but it’s undoubtedly unique and not entirely without merit. It’s hard to recommend, but I had a fun time watching these stars bounce off each other. Closer to an absurdist historical comedy than an awards season drama, it is nevertheless a film I’m glad I saw in theaters this week.

Rating: 6/10

Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.