(director/writer: David O. Russell; cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki; editor: Jay Cassidy; music: Daniel Pemberton; cast: Christian Bale (Burt Berendsen), Margot Robbie (Valerie Voze), Robert De Niro (Gen. Gil Dillenback), Rami Malek (Tom), Anya Taylor-Joy (Libby Voze), Chris Rock (Milton King), Zoe Saldana (Irma St. Clair), Taylor Swift ( Liz Meekins), John David Washington (Harold Woodman), Beth Grant (Mrs. Dillenbeck), Colleen Camp (Eva Ott), Bonnie Hellman (Shirley Pratt), Max Perlich (Morty Baum), Timothy Olypant (Taron Milfax), Michael Shannon (Henry Norcross), Casey Biggs (Augustus Vandenheuval), Dey Young (Alvelia Vandenheuval), Mike Meyers (Paul Canterbury), Ed Begley Jr. (Bill Meekins), Matthias Schoenaerts (Detective Lem Getwiller), Andrea Riseborough (Beatrice), Alessandro Nivolo (Detective Hiltz); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Arnon Milchan, Matthew Budman, Anthony Katagas, David O. Russell, Christian Bale; Disney/20th Century Studios; 2022)
“An overstuffed, muddled, historical 1930s fantasy period romantic comedy-thriller that dazzles.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An overstuffed, muddled, historical 1930s fantasy period romantic comedy-thriller that dazzles as an antifascist history lesson skillfully directed (even if flawed) and written by David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”/”Three Kings”), with an amazingly gifted star-filled A-list cast. Russell, recently besieged by his tweets that his Twitter followers call him out for on his abusive behavior, presents his first film in seven years. Russell worked on the script with the star Christian Bale for six years. The story is set in NYC after WW I in the 1930s and is inspired by real events (a little-known conspiracy plot from 1933, known as the Business Plot, whereby a group of wealthy fascist American businessmen attempted to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a retired major general). The characters are fictionalized (mixed in with real history), but the narrative is so convoluted that probably only historians, political junkies and scholars might have enough intel of the events covered to fully appreciate it.
The narrative revolves around three American friends (2 soldiers and a nurse) who meet during WW I in Europe and live briefly in Amsterdam as happy-go-lucky bohemians to recoup their strength and joy in life from their tough war days, as they form a close friendship and there’s a romance that develops between the Black soldier and white nurse. There are long flashbacks of their wild Amsterdam days until they returned to America to begin their careers (showing the film’s best scenes).
Some 12 years later, in 1933, where the film turns confusing and boring, the buddy soldiers from the war meet again–the down and out NYC medical doctor, the half-Catholic and half-Jewish scraggy looking Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), the film’s sometime narrator, who is estranged from his witty, snobbish and wealthy Park Ave. wife, Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough). Burt now has a glass eye from a war injury in France and is not completely good as far as his mental health being stabilized. His war comrade who he met in the French hospital, is the now thriving Washington-based lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington). Both have kept in touch and now help other vets who were injured during the Great War. The nurse with them in Amsterdam was Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), a former WW I American volunteer nurse in a French hospital, who treated both Burt and Harold. She’s a dada-inspired artist who stayed in Amsterdam with Burt and Harold but vanished for good after taking the boys to a bohemian romp in the woods.
Harold gets Burt to perform an autopsy on a general (their commanding regiment officer during the war) whose daughter Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift) suspects he was murdered, as he passed on under suspicious circumstances. Burt performs the autopsy with his trusted mortuary nurse Irma (Zoe Saldana) alongside, finding poison in his system. When this is reported, Liz is slain and Harold and Burt are framed for her murder.
A ’30s screwball comedy emerges when the super-spies, the American Henry Norcross (Michael Shannon) and the zany bird hobbyist, the Brit, Paul Canterbury (Mike Meyers), give the film its most irrelevant moments of strained slapstick comedy.
Things go better when Robert De Niro’s decorated General Dillenback comes briefly into the picture and he may be the key person to clear up the political intrigue over the assassination plot.
Other supporting celeb actors are B-listers, and include Rami Malek-playing Valere’s brother, Anya Taylor-Joy-playing Rami’s wife, Chris Rock playing a non-essential part as a former soldier, Alessandro Nivols & Matthias Schoenaerts playing dumb cops. And all give fine performances in their secondary parts.
I liked it much, but with reservations (there’s too much of a story here to fully absorb). Russell and Bale seem to want to compare those treacherous times with our troubling modern-times, as we currently face the fight to save democracy from MAGA and Republican threats and live in a country filled with rage. I believe the caper becomes a damning eye-opening political film with much merit that will be perceived better in the future when the film has time to marinate.
REVIEWED ON 11/15/2022 GRADE: B+