When murder and international intrigue are afoot, only a lawyer, a one-eyed doctor, and a nurse can stop the dastardly plot in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam. Starring Christain Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, this would-be whodunit mystery is compelling enough, but the show is overlong often bogged down by too many side stories and a parade of famous faces. Disney with 20th Century Studios delivers an overall excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray set with a lovely transfer, an effective Atmos mix, but runs short of extensive bonus features. Worth A Look
The war to end all wars meant a lot to a bunch of people. For cycloptic Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), Harold Woodman Esquire (John David Washington), and Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) it meant the indestructible bond of friendship. But years after their jaunt in Amsterdam, these wayward friends are thrust back together after the murder of their commanding officer and his daughter. With both the cops and a strange organization after them, Burt, Harold, and Valerie have a slim chance to clear their names and stop a diabolical plot.
I love that the “whodunit” is having a bit of a moment in the last couple of years. In large part due to the wild success of Rian Johnson's 2019 hit Knives Out, we now have its sequel Glass Onion, See How They Run, and Branagh’s Death on the Nile all hit in 2022 alone. In addition to these contemporaries is David O. Russell’s latest ensemble feature Amsterdam. At its core, this film is a simple recreation of events surrounding the fascinating 1933 “Business Plot” or the “Wall Street Putsch” to remove Roosevelt from office. It’s an interesting and compelling rabbit hole to wander down for a murder mystery whodunit. Only David O. Russell doesn’t keep things neat and clean and over-stuffs the film into a sometimes laborious affair.
Christain Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie command the screen as our trio of misfit friends. While a little background is nice and necessary to get to know our eclectic band of heroes, the deviation to explain their relationship happens abruptly and lasts far too long to the point you forget why we’re watching these characters in the first place. It's a jaunty excursion and it's playful and fun, but it lasts far too long. Just when I felt like half the movie was already done, I noticed it’d only been barely thirty minutes with most of two hours left to go.
Part of the issue that bogs Amsterdam down is the expansive cast. In addition to our three leads, there’s a variable parade of familiar faces and talent all vying for screentime. See if you can read this cast list aloud in a single breath: Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami, Malek, and Robert De Niro. Did you make it? Now, this great cast wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t all given a tick or a quark to exploit. But because each of them has a "thing," they're all given a lot of time to showcase their particular eccentricity to the point it feels like a game of wackiness one-upmanship.
And sadly this can bleed into our three leads. Bale, Washington, and Robbie are all great and deliver impressive performances. You like these three characters. You want to see these three solve the mystery and live to fight another day. Only Washington is left playing the lone straight man in a film filled with the kind of goofy quirky characters David O. Russell is so well known for creating. Washington all too often looks like the guy left out of the fun. But when this film is focused strictly on the main plot and our three characters, it’s actually quite entertaining. I know I’ve spent most of three paragraphs ripping Amsterdam down a few pegs, but the film isn’t a complete loss. Thankfully the final hour finds its footing and clicks along at a welcome pace. It’s just getting there is a task. I don't take it as a good sign when a character frequently interrupts the conversations of other characters to get them back on track to the A Plot. With a tighter edit, Amsterdam could have been a much more fulfilling film.
As far as production values go, I’ve got to hand it to David O. Russell and his team for crafting a beautiful little comedic thriller. The effort to recreate the early 1930s is simply marvelous. From the costume work to the scenery to the set design, it’s an impressive accomplishment. The film looks and sounds alive and real like actual people live in it and inhabit this world. It’s a wonderful example of cinematic world-building. And while the film is a slog at the outset, it does eventually reach a worthy payoff. I wouldn’t call this a great whodunit, and not the best of what's been released this year, but by the time those credits roll it’s proven to be a fun and entertaining flick that could have been better if it didn’t get distracted so often.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Amsterdam escapes for a two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital set from Disney/20th Century Studios. The 4K is pressed on a BD-66 disc with the 1080p version scoring a BD-50. The discs are housed in a standard two-disc case with identical slipcover art. The discs load to static image main menus with standard navigation options. Only the Blu-ray disc has any bonus features.
Amsterdam writes home for a splendid HDR10 2.39:1 2160p transfer. Shot digitally and finished natively in 4K, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography comes to life with this beautiful-looking transfer. As I mentioned in the main review this film is visually impressive and the details are magnificent throughout. Facial features, complex clothing patterns, and impeccable production design are all on display. Even the efforts to recreate 1930s New York City streets are beautifully captured. Little things like the shade of Bale’s glass eye are some of the many little visual touches to be enjoyed in this film.
HDR10 does a welcome job enhancing the film’s drab-ish color pallet letting little primary flourishes come to life. Some yellow roses, a red dress, a just a couple of “pop” colors come to life for this stylish film. Stylish being the main phrasing here, black levels are deep and inky and whites are boldly crisp and clear. There are few moments of intentional blooming for that dreamlike quality the film evokes but by and large they’re right on point. Spectral highlights are also quite lovely, again glints in glass eyes are notable examples. At the end of the day it's a beautiful-looking picture.
While Disney can be a tad hit or miss with Atmos tracks, their 20th Century Studios offerings seem to be immune to the worst of their issues as this track is quite nice. Without having to deal with any softness or volume correction, dialog is clean and clear without issue and there’s ample surround activity to keep the side, rear, and height channels working. Sounds of rain or gunshots echoing around buildings slip into the height channels and move all about for a very satisfying immersive experience. The score by Trygg Toven is also a nice jaunty effort that works to sell the whimsy without being used to fill up the soundscape. Even in quiet moments, little auditory effects keep the channels active so even when you don’t feel like something is happening, the mix at least feels full and lively right to the grand finale.
In a year full of whodunits, Amsterdam wasn’t the best, nor was it the worst. While there are terrific moments and the film does finish strong, it also gets distracted from its best elements with too many eccentricities of an impressively large cast all vying for screentime. But for Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie - it’s a hell of a well-produced show and you come to love their characters and the big mystery they aim to uncover. Thanks to Disney and 20th Century Studios, Amsterdam comes home to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a terrific HDR10 transfer and an active engaging Atmos mix. Bonus features are unfortunately slim but worth looking at. If you’re curious, it’s certainly Worth A Look