Mystery comedy ‘Amsterdam’ celebrates madness, but warns too little against fascism

David O. Russell sees eccentric frivolity as the antidote to fascism. The smart one Amsterdam is a film that should work on paper but is disappointing in practice due to the joyless portrayal of the main characters.

Roosje van der Kamp

The historical mystery comedy Amsterdam is a warning of what can happen if we all look the wrong way. The story begins when old friends Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) and lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington) are blamed for a murder they did not commit. In the chaos that immediately follows after a young woman (Taylor Swift) is pushed under a moving car, the real killer blames the duo, who are soon joined by the surrounding crowd and the police.


Amsterdam is about looking. Burt has a glass eye, the result of a shrapnel injury sustained in World War I, which constantly fails. A surprising number of people the duo meet in the effort to clear their name are obsessed with birdwatching, a hobby that “forces you to decide what you want to see.”

whose Amsterdam is about looking in the right direction amid chaos, the film itself is one long distraction. Director, screenwriter and producer David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) does everything to dazzle the audience: freeze framestext on screen, a plot that moves back and forth between 1918 and 1933 and back and forth, with supporting roles played by stars such as Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Chris Rock and Robert De Niro.

“A lot of this actually happened,” says the on-screen text before the film starts. But the story is not as special as this sentence leads us to believe. Most of the film is a chore to get through: the scenes are too long, the characters explain to the audience in sloppy dialogue what just happened, and the unnecessarily complicated story structure is more annoying than interesting.

Director, screenwriter and producer David O. Russell.Image Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

A magician usually distracts the audience to perform a trick right under his nose. Russell tries to do the same. But when the distraction lasts so long and is performed so joylessly, the audience’s eyes begin to wander. That is, the final revelation of the mystery comes as no surprise. In fact, it’s so obvious that the obviousness of the mystery seems to be the film’s goal. It could be an astute observation about the political situation in the United States if the film wasn’t so exhausting.

Celebration of Madness

Amsterdam has a deceptively light-hearted tone. The story is full of oddities and quirks. At times the film seems more like a celebration of madness than a warning against fascism. Valerie (Margot Robbie), a ‘brilliant but insane woman’ (yawn) who takes care of Burt and Harold in a Belgian hospital where they are being treated for their war wounds in 1918, makes art out of shrapnel. Violent teapots and cups with crazy bulges, for example. Together the three sing ‘nonsense songs’ and put random words together. The songs ‘shouldn’t make any sense, but make us happy’, they explain.

The meandering plot and the relatively simple ending are reminiscent of the work of Wes Anderson. In his hands, the fusion of political warning and celebration of gleeful futility might have worked, but in Russell’s direction, the happiness the three constantly talk about never translates to the screen. They have the time of their lives in Amsterdam, where Valerie and Harold can be together as an interracial couple, but we never see that happiness on screen. We only hear about it.

The film revolves around joy and love, but all its expressions feel forced. This is largely due to the deliberately understated way of playing, where the lyrics are spoken flatly and the faces are kept tight in the most bizarre situations. It also has something to do with the lack of chemistry between the main characters. In any case, Russell’s deliberately ironic approach takes a story that sees emotion as the antidote to inequality Amsterdam a little convincing.


To whom Amsterdam seeing the city in pictures will be disappointing. The main characters take a trip to Amsterdam, but we don’t see the streets of Amsterdam for more than a second-long shot through the window of their apartment. In the film, the city is therefore more a symbol of freedom than a real place. Incidentally, it is nothing new: in The fault in our stars Amsterdam, for example, is also presented as a detour from the ugly reality. The goldfinch focuses more on the rough side of the city, but that film also portrays the city as a magical place.


Direction David O. Russell

Of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Alessandro Nivola

Can be seen in Pathé Amsterdam North, City, De Munt, Tuschinski, Arena, Filmhallen

Leave a Comment