After taking a little break from movies, filmmaker David O. Russell is back. During the 90s and early aughts, Russell made a name for himself as an indie filmaker darling with movies such as Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster, and went on to make bigger movies such as Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook. With these films, Russell has shown that he had a unique voice with sharp sense of humor. However with recent movies such as American Hustle (which I like), Joy (didn’t like), and now Amsterdam (it’s okay), it appears that David Russell has lost that uniqueness that set him apart from other directors and has relegated himself to copying the style of other, better filmmakers.

With Amsterdam, David O. Russell defintely channels Martin Scorsese, and that works fine for the story and its characters. With his latest movie, the writer/director is now showing much love and admiration for the Coen Brothers. The problem is noticed, though, is that Russell didn’t seem to know how to skillfully blend the humor with the moral of his story. The humor does work, but often to a fault. So much of the movie’s action and dialogue is channeled into making the audience laugh, but the moral feels tacked on like an afterthought until the audience is struck in the face with it. It is a case of heavy-handed writing and direction which I found distracting and bewildering.

The story mostly takes place in 1933, but also flashes back to time of World War I and shortly thereafter. Christian Bale stars as Dr. Burt Berendsen, a seriously wounded World War I veteran and hero who has dedicated his career as a physician to treating sick and injured veterans. His war buddy Harold Woodsman (John David Washington) has remained a close confidant and now works as an attorney. The two friends find themselves embroiled into a murder mystery for which they are wrongly accused. While further investigating into the matter, they discover that their other war friend Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) might be connected, in some way, to the people responsible for the murder. This reunion opens some old wounds from the trio’s past, but Valerie, Harold, and Burt must try to reconcile in order to clear their names.

To this movie’s benefit, it has an epic, Robert Altman-size cast of very talented actors who perform the comedy well and work their charms to keep audiences somewhat invested. In addition to Washington, Robbie, and Bale, the movie features performances by Robert DeNiro, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, and more. It is a mostly phenomenal cast, but even the casting can be a little distracting at times.

And it isn’t just the fact that David O. Russell is trying to emulate the Coens, the problem is that he simply doesn’t pull off that style as well as they do. I honestly don’t know what has happened to David O. Russell, but the dude needs to get his unique voice back. I look forward to a day when he works his idiosyncratic magic and his recognizable sense of humor reigns supreme. It is a presence that I and his fans sorely miss from cinema.

Despite my complaints about the movie and gripes about his lack of creativity and originality, I still moderately recommend Amsterdam. It is a messy film, but an amusing and entertaining one at that.

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