Film Reviews: Amsterdam | The female king

Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington in Amsterdam PIC: Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

amsterdam finds American Hustle writer/director David O Russell in deviously subversive form with an all-star period caper film that speaks directly to the dangerous absurdity of the Trump era. Jumping between World War I and the early 1930s, it stars Christian Bale and John David Washington as Burt Berendsen and Harold Woodman, comrades-in-arms during the war in Europe and lately battle-scarred best friends. trying with more or less success to dedicate their professional lives (Burt is a doctor, Harold is a lawyer) to helping their fellow soldiers negotiate life in a country that has forgotten them.

Set in New York in 1933, the film quickly draws this couple into a bizarre conspiracy when their former commanding officer (Ed Begley Jr) is found dead en route to speak at an annual veterans reunion that they organized. The deceased’s daughter (a juicy little cameo for Taylor Swift) suspects foul play, and Burt’s loyalty to her father, along with his own anti-authoritarian leanings and fringe presence on the medical scene, convinces him to perform an autopsy somewhere. illicit bit to uncover the truth – a plan of action that soon has him and Harold on the run from the police.

At this point, the film returns to the Great War to sketch the origins of a friendship forged in chaos. Humble Burt, we find out, was sent to serve as a medic at the behest of his wealthy in-laws and he meets Harold when he is posted to a black regiment forced to wear French uniforms because the US Army refuses to integrate. . Saving each other’s lives, they end up in a field hospital in Belgium, with Burt minus an eye, Harold minus part of his face, and both now in possession of bodies full of shrapnel.

Like Robert Altman’s anti-war classic M*A*S*H, here Russell juxtaposes the film’s freewheeling comedic tone with harsh close-ups of medical procedures, then transitions into dark comedy by introducing Margot Robbie in as a nurse hiding from her family from New York society in Europe where she also makes avant-garde art from the bullets and casings she extracts from her patients. The trio become inseparable as Valerie (Robbie) falls in love with Harold and encourages him and Burt to travel to Amsterdam where they can exist for a little while in a dreamy bohemian bubble at a world away from the supposed melting pot. pot of New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam).

If it all sounds like a shaggy dog ​​story, that’s part of the film’s appeal and also part of its design – the central trio deliver big, wide movie star performances that pull us in so Russell can sneak into more serious points about shameful negligence. of those on the fringes. But as with his Gulf War comedy/drama Three Kings, he also has bigger fish to fry. As the twists and turns mount, we uncover a conspiracy involving ornithology, spies, eugenics labs, and a conspiracy based on facts from the era that is too spoiler to reveal in detail here, but one that offers Robert De Niro a meaty supporting role as a celebrity general courted by various American business interests who like what they see in Italy and Germany.


As Amsterdam rushes to its conclusion, the cuddly aspect becomes increasingly manic and absurd. Yet in a world where a violent assault on American democracy can be launched in the wake of a legitimate election, the strangeness and chaos of his treatise on the rise of fascism only sharpens contemporary parallels. “Why take something beautiful and ruin it with violence,” asks a character with art distorted by Valerie’s shrapnel at one point. It’s a question Russell leaves hanging over the film, drawing attention to how corrupt forces repeatedly sacrifice and destroy bodies, limbs, minds and ideals in pursuit of wealth and power. .

There is a politically rich history at the heart of The female king also, a rousing action epic set against the backdrop of the 19th century slave trade. Viola Davis stars as Nanisca, the leader of an army of fearsome female warriors in the historic kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa. With a newly ascendant king (played by John Boyega), Nanisca wants to use her experience and influence to extricate Dahomey from the slave trade by convincing the king to export palm oil instead of people, which will require also to sever Dahomey’s ties with Oyo. Empire, which grew rich by working with European traders. But Nanisca also has a more personal reason for wanting to take down the Oyo, and the film cleverly highlights her quest for personal revenge, intertwining it with the arrival of a brash young recruit, Nawi (played by Thuso Mbedu), who has a mysterious past. her own.

Like Braveheart and Gladiator before it, the film uses history as a jumping-off point for myth-making and in doing so delivers a full action spectacle, just from a point of view that films have tended to ignore. . Coming off the back of the Netflix-funded comic book film The Old Guard, director Gina Prince-Blythewood also draws inspiration from superhero mythology, but in Davis she’s lucky to have a heavyweight actor. with the gravity required to make it work. No Time To Die’s Lashana Lynch further enlivens the proceedings as Nawi’s charismatic mentor, Izogie.

Both films in general release from October 7

Nanisca (Viola Davis) in The Woman King PIC: Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures

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