Are you excited for a glossy new caper starring Margot Robbie and Christian Bale? Well, David O. Russell’s new period romp had all the makings to be a box-office and critical success with a cast more star-studded than a space-themed biker jacket. However, a slew of issues dashed the film’s hopes. Deadline reports that Amsterdam stands to lose $100 million at the box office.
Starry-eyes bigger than your stomach
Amsterdam, directed by David O. Russell, whose previous outings include awards darlings Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, is a period comedy thriller based on the true story of the Business Plot, a 1933 political conspiracy in the US. Like his previous output, Russell’s new flick is chock-full of recognizable faces, with its three big guns Margot Robbie, John David Washington, and Christian Bale heading up the movie. However, it has an arsenal hidden behind the poster with performances from Anya Taylor Joy, Rami Malek, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Shannon, Robert De Niro, and even the pop sensation Taylor Swift.
In spite of multi-million dollar fees to stars, star-studded films are driven by the belief that star power helps drives sales making them a greater return on their initial investment. However, despite the draw that these A-List actors pull in, it can be a particularly risky movie, especially if the interest in the film is drowning in a paddling pool. What you’re left with is blowing an $80 million (USD) budget (double that of American Hustle), bereft any ideas of making a single penny back.
They Don’t make Movies Like This
Amsterdam’s specific brand of glossy star-studded adult caper is somewhat of an oddity in the current cinematic climate. Outside of the absolute titans of the industry, typically Disney-owned franchises – Marvel, Star Wars and Disney animated properties, these big to medium-budget films skewed to a distinctly adult audience struggle to pull in the kinds of crowds they once did in the early days of the Ocean’s series and the first Anchorman. Though the pandemic certainly hamstringed cinema-going practises, this trend predates Covid-19
It is not as utterly dire as it seems, movies like Top Gun: Maverick have breathed new life into the moribund summer blockbuster. Though, it’s important to note that Maverick is a long-awaited sequel to a successful pre-established franchise. Nevertheless, films like this are simply a greater risk. In attempt to replicate the bountiful successes of the starry, 10-time Oscar nominated, $251.1M worldwide gross of American Hustle, Amsterdam struggled to wrangle buzz or anticipation of his previous output. Deadline reported that Amsterdam opened to a $6.5M opening domestically, boosted by Imax tickets, and altogether it came out to a paltry $10M worldwide start.
David O. Russell’s films haven’t always had the greatest track record. Of course, Silver Linings playbook was a critcal indie darling and American Hustle was a sprawling 1970s smash hit. However, his follow-up Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence was panned by critics as was forgotten features Accidental Love and I Heart Huckabees. His films have a particular flare for mixing the operatic, with the quirky and offbeat. Though these traits are well liked in his successful films, they can quikly lose their luster. In the case of Amsterdam, Russell’s has seemingly run out of rope. Currently sitting at 34% on Rotten Tomatoes and 48% on Metacritic, this was certaintly not the kind of lackluster buzz they were anticipating.
David Erlich wrote for IndieWire that along the line of American Hustle and Joy‘s retelling of American history, ‘[Amsterdam] continues the director’s recent trend of trying (and failing) to pan for truth amid the whitewater rapids of his own bullshit.’ While the The New York Times commends the movie’s comedic splashes, Vulture‘s Bilge Ebiri ultimately contends that the film ‘Amsterdam starts to get exhausting when it should perhaps feel liberating or intoxicating.’ And what of the Audience scores? well they don’t look much better.
Speaking of the ‘whitewater rapids of his own bullshit’, David O. Russell is another member in Hollywood inured in the age of #MeToo. In 2012, The Smoking Gun obtained a police report that the director’s niece accused Russell of inappropriately touching her. Nicole Peloquin, who was 19 at the time, had been visiting Russell at the time when during a workout session, Russell, who was spotting Peloquin, placed his hand “right above” her genitals, she said. His actions did not cease there, then slipping his hand under her shirt and feeling her breasts after she discussing her transition, Peloquin told the police.
Inappropriately touching your vastly younger, trans niece, is common fodder in the age of #MeToo, wherein the abuses of male privilege and power have been held to the light, exposing the misconduct of men such as Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein. However, this era has proved how much power and privilege these men still wield and how little it can tarnish their careers. Not only have notoriously abusive men such as Spacey managed to steer clear of legal retribution; but even men like Johnny Depp, who this year won a defamation case against his accuser Amber Heard despite a history of questionable and abusive behavior, have managed to undergo a complete redemption arc in the wake of it. In the case of Russell, who at the time did not dispute Peloquin’s claims but rather told police ‘acting very provocative towards him’, the allegations have done very little to slow down the director’s career. In fact, even outspoken celebrities concerned with abuse and sexual misconduct such as Margot Robbie and Taylor Swift are working with him on Amsterdam.
Nevertheless, the absolutely horrendous performance of the film and poor reviews are indebted to a director whose hubris and arrogance know little bounds and have been proven to be misguided and misspent.