Ingredients are essential to any recipe, but they can only take you so far. Imagine one of the finest chefs in the world was going to bake you a cake using only the highest quality ingredients. We’re talking organic milk and eggs, imported spices, the works.
But then you find out that the chef didn’t follow any recipe and just chucked everything in a bowl and hoped for the best. The odds are, in spite of everything, you’re going to get a pretty lousy tasting cake.
Such is the case with “Amsterdam,” where accomplished writer/director David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle”) takes a great cast and an interesting story and produces a whole lot of “meh.”
Set between World Wars, the movie focuses on a trio of odd-duck friends who find themselves at the center of a murder mystery and conspiracy.
Christian Bale plays Burt Berendsen, a Park Avenue doctor who reluctantly joins the army during WWI. Burt is assigned command of an all African-American regiment and that is where he meets the headstrong Harold Woodman (John David Washington, who, in spite of starring turns in “BlacKkKlansman” and “Tenet,” I, in my ignorance, only just now learned he is also the son of the great Denzel Washington).
Harold and Burt form a pact to watch each other’s backs, but when they both are terribly injured during battle, their pact extends to a third member, Valerie (Margot Robbie), a free-spirited nurse who patches the boys up.
The trio abscond to Amsterdam and while the boys recuperate, Harold and Valerie strike up a romance with Burt as the welcome, goofball third-wheel.
Fast-forward to the mid-1930s and Burt and Harold are back in New York with Burt treating veterans via unconventional means and Harold, now a lawyer, representing them in court. But when their old commanding officer turns up dead, the boys find themselves in the middle of a vast conspiracy.
I was rooting for this movie like crazy. The cast is great, especially Bale running around with a glass eye doing Christian-Bale things. The central mystery is intriguing, loosely based on historical fact. The look of the movie is incredible with great sets and wardrobes and the supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches with the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek and Robert De Niro just walking into a scene for a handful of lines and then walking back out again.
The problem with “Amsterdam” is that Russel can’t decide if the movie is about the crazy mystery and all the weirdos swirling around it, or if it’s about the unconventional relationship between the three leads with intrigue swirling in the background.
Instead, he tries to make it do both things and winds up with a great-looking, exceptionally-acted movie that amounts to nothing.
“Amsterdam” is proof that just because you have all the right pieces in place, it’s still possible to screw it up.
“Amsterdam” is rated R for brief violence and bloody images.