David O. Russell‘s first feature in eight years, “Amsterdam” starts with the line “A lot of this actually happened.”  The reality is most of this didn’t happen, and only one character has a real-world counterpart who uncovered what was later dubbed the “Business Plot.”  Fortunately, it’s the fictional aspects of “Amsterdam” that are the most enjoyable.

The film is narrated by Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), a New York doctor who was left disfigured by his service in World War I.  It was during the war that he met what would become his two best friends.  Harold Woodman (John David Washington) served under Burt, and after being injured, they both found themselves in the care of an eccentric nurse, Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie).  As Burt tells it, “Harold and Valerie immediately fell in love, and I was their best friend.”  The trio forms a pact, swearing to always look out for, and help each other whenever they are in need.

Instead of returning home after the war, the three spend a few years in Amsterdam.  They dance, make art, love, laugh, and truly live life to the fullest.  Unfortunately, Burt feels drawn back to NYC and his estranged Park Avenue wife.  Valerie has a terrible feeling that something awful will happen if he returns and unsuccessfully begs him to stay in Amsterdam.  Her prediction comes true, but not until 1932 when Burt and Harold witness a murder that is immediately pinned on them.  The murder occurs while they are investigating the mysterious sudden death of their former General (Ed Begley Jr.).  It soon becomes clear to them that they have become wrapped up in some sort of conspiracy that has ties in the upper-class New York society.

The film boasts an extensive cast, but beyond the main trio, the remaining performances are extended cameos at best.  This works to the film’s benefit as it’s most enjoyable when Burt, Valerie, and Harold are chewing up the scenery together.  David O. Russell appears to have two main points to make in the film.  First, beware of history repeating itself, and democracies being undermined by the mighty dollar.  Second, only art, love, and kindness can battle the evil and hate in the world.

“Amsterdam” starts off strong. It’s funny, beautiful, and the characters are incredibly endearing.  Unfortunately, the 3rd act nearly undoes the charm the first two acts revel in.  In screenwriting, one of the biggest rules is “show, don’t tell.”  But here, as the mystery finally unfolds, David O. Russell does both.  The audience learns who the true villains are just as the characters do.  Everything unfolds on screen, and yet, there are another 15 minutes of voice-over explanation from Burt.  What could have been subtle comparisons to our current political climate are ham-fistedly pounded into our heads.  With a runtime over 2 hours long, “Amsterdam” could have benefited greatly from tighter editing and less spoon-fed exposition.