American Hustle director David O Russell’s breezy period caper is not, by any traditional metric, A Great Movie. The plot is bananas, despite being loosely based on a real-life fascist conspiracy in 1930s America, the ending is a dud and the outsized performances won’t be for everyone. And I kinda liked it.
Because what Amsterdam lacks in tight storytelling, it more than makes up for in exuberant, happy-go-lucky spirit. It’s the kind of whole-hearted celebration of goofy camaraderie and friendship of which there are all too few on our cinema screens. And for all its flaws, it leaves you feeling better about the world.
That baggy plot involves three old Great War friends caught up a byzantine scheme to instal a Nazi-sympathising government in Washington. It begins with a postmortem and takes in Great War veterans’ leagues, a couple of ornithologically fixated spies (Mike Myers and Michael Shannon), more murders, two dimbulb cops (Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts) and Rami Malek’s slippery one-percenter. It’s, well, a lot.
Amsterdam’s well-stocked ensemble inhabits its lushly constructed and lit Jazz Age world (Gravity’s Emmanuel Lubezki is cinematographer) with gusto. Christian Bale delivers a joyously leftfield performance as a caring, glass-eyed Jewish doctor struggling to win the approval of the snobbish Park Avenue family of his wife (Andrea Riseborough). To say he goes ‘full Columbo’ is very much meant as a compliment.
What Amsterdam lacks in tight storytelling, it more than makes up for in exuberant, happy-go-lucky spirit
Alongside Margot Robbie’s sparky nurse/artist and John David Washington’s level-headed lawyer, he’s the heart of the movie. Diving back to 1918, the threesome are a tight-knit posse of war veterans – her, a nurse; the other two, wounded soldiers – who seek a bohemian post-war life in Amsterdam. Fast forward a decade or so, and they’re reunited in New York and wanted for the murder of a general’s daughter. They’ve been stitched up, but by who?
Cramming Amsterdam’s myriad subplots and political angles into a coherent two hours ultimately proves beyond Russell. But tight narrative isn’t really what fuels the writer-director. He’s more about arming electric performers with offbeat, talky scenes and catching the lightning that sparks in a bottle. And the bottle here is full to the brim.
In cinemas worldwide now.