Amsterdam (2022)

*. I wasn’t far into Amsterdam before I felt the need to go look something up. The question being: How tall is Taylor Swift?
*. I didn’t even recognize Swift at first. The face just looked sort of familiar. Then I looked at the crowd of names on the DVD box cover and it twigged. But then I was struck by how big she was. I don’t know why, but I’d never thought of Taylor Swift as being a particularly tall women. But here she seemed taller even than her co-stars. Was she just wearing sky-high heels?
*. Actually, no. She’s 5’11”. That’s a tall woman. The average — mark that: average — height of an American woman is 5’4″. So a full seven inches above average, which is a lot. Meanwhile, Christian Bale is listed as 6′ and John David Washington 5’9″. Take the official heights listed for male actors as usually shading taller than reality (it’s a publicity thing) and Swift may well have been one of the tallest actors in the cast. Margot Robbie is 5’6″. Robert De Niro 5’7″. Chris Rock 5’10”.
*. Anyway, there’s the one signal observation I made while watching Amsterdam. And in the event, Swift isn’t long for the movie as she’s quickly run over by a truck. Which, all things considered, is probably the best thing that could have happened to her. She didn’t want to see where things were going.
*. At the start, and through a lot of its middle section, where writer-director-producer David O. Russell was going seemed interesting. It’s a period piece, sort of in the vein of the Coen brothers (I was thinking particularly of Hail, Caesar!) mixed with Wes Anderson. Bale, Washington, and Robbie are three buddies who meet at the end of the First World War, with Bale and Washington heading back stateside while Robbie disappears. Bale becomes a doctor and Washington a lawyer (though he seems more like a private dick to me). One day Swift tries to enlist their help in finding out who might have killed her father, but then she gets pushed under the aforementioned bus.

*. Swift’s death precipitates the rest of the action, which has the three amigos reuniting to take on a conspiracy that’s based on the so-called Business Plot of 1933 (an initial title card tells us “A lot of this actually happened”). Basically a bunch of fat-cats want to take over the U.S. government by way of a fascist coup, installing a popular general (Robert De Niro) as president.
*. This part of the movie was enjoyable enough. It’s fun seeing all the different stars doing their thing — at least until De Niro puts in an appearance, as his “thing” now consists primarily of being boring — and it’s a beautiful looking movie, with great production design and photography. But as I’ve said many times before, the care and skill lavished on the look of movies today is in reverse relation to the quality of the writing, directing, and any attempt at originality. As again we see here.
*. Unfortunately, a beautiful table is set and we’re served wieners and beans. The rest of the movie goes nowhere. Or to be more precise, and even fair, it just goes where you know it’s going. Or to be even more precise, an even more crude version of where you know it’s going (a destination that Bale’s character nevertheless has to explain, at length, at the end). Guess what? Fascists, Nazis, racists and anti-Semites are bad. Democracy, tolerance, love, and loyalty are good. I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you!
*. So no twists or surprises or even insightful political commentary. I mean, just get a load of Bale’s final voiceover and the film’s moving takeaway: “Each one of us is given a tapestry, our own opera. This person and this person. Thinking about it . . . love is not enough. You got to fight to protect kindness. You get attached to people and things. And they might just break your heart . . . but that’s being alive.” Believe it or not, I’m not a cold-hearted cynic. I often cry at movies. But hearing these words I was only moved to say “Oh, fuck off.”

*. “Oh, fuck off” is not a good note to end a movie on. But I’m struggling to say anything nice about this movie beyond its well-appointed period dressing. The characters seem like props. Andrea Riseborough is the upper-class bitch of a wife. Chris Rock got more exercise in Spiral. Anya Taylor-Joy continues to disappoint me in everything I’ve seen her in but Emma. Rami Malek doesn’t even get to play the villain I’m sure he was expecting to play. Washington, previously seen as the Protagonist in Tenet, has yet to be called upon to do much in the way of acting. Margot Robbie is a dull romantic lead. Bale spices thing up a bit with his Columbo impersonation that includes a hunched over and head-tilted delivery and lots of gesturing with his hands. It’s a bit of a caricature performance, but paradoxically makes him seem like the most human person we meet.
*. A major box office failure and not a big hit with critics either, what Amsterdam really needed was more complexity, as well as some building of tension and suspense. Despite some jarring violence it never creates any sense of danger or threat. Perhaps it was trying too hard to be funny, but I think if it had been darker the jokes would have worked better too. As it is, this is just too bland a movie to care much about. Heaven knows the political message was timely, but it’s put into such simplistic terms here (chanting Nazis facing off against Black veterans) that it’s easy to ignore. Instead of scaring us with the threat of a coup we’re made to feel warm and safe. Because all you need is love.

7 thoughts on “Amsterdam (2022)

  1. Lashaan Balasingam @ Roars and Echoes

    I was sooo, sooo curious about this when first announced but then the critics killed it for me and the movie length made it hard to really make me want to invest in it. It doesn’t help to now know that the story doesn’t have the additional layer of complexity, any kind of social commentary in there…

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, for a movie of this type, in 2022, you expect it to have a lot more in the way of twists. This is remarkably straightforward and not at all interesting. It’s nice to look at though.


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