David O. Russell’s latest film, Amsterdam, features an all-star cast led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. Set in 1933, three World War I veterans, two soldiers and a nurse, attempt to solve the mystery of a murdered woman. First suspected of the murder, they soon discover that a larger conspiracy is at play. 

A meandering story, it takes an awful long time before the stakes of the central mystery are revealed. For too much of the film, Amsterdam spins its wheels with clever dialogue and committed performances in scenes that go nowhere and seem unconnected to the story’s larger stakes.   

Amsterdam’s direction also lacks energy. The camera is too stationary with too many two-shots of characters delivering their lines. The walk-and-talks of The West Wing gave the dialogue-heavy scripts some dramatic urgency that could have been utilized here. 

For all that’s the case, there’s an easy chemistry and a lot of camaraderie, which ultimately make Amsterdam enjoyable and heart-warming. Sure, it doesn’t fit the expectations of a screwball comedy/mystery, but what does work are these actors. The ever-chameleonic Bale contorts his body in a characterization that fits a put-upon but resilient veteran, and Washington and Robbie sell the film’s happy and carefree scenes. The rest of the cast are all brilliant, especially the waspy pair of Anya Taylor-Joy and Rami Malek. 

Understood in retrospect, Amsterdam’s is compelling, but its telling doesn’t feel compelling. Normally, this would sink a film, but watching these actors buoys an otherwise uneven experience.