Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"David O Russell's latest - a shaggy dog mystery with a deliberate air of penny dreadfuls - could do with more straightforward narrative and fewer screwball convolutions."

David O Russell's latest - a shaggy dog mystery with a deliberate air of penny dreadfuls - could do with more straightforward narrative and fewer screwball convolutions. Once you dig beneath the gloss of this tale of three friends who find themselves mixed up in murder - based exceptionally loosely on a genuine US fascist coup attempt from the 1930s - the plotting feels decidedly laboured.

The set-up in itself works fine, as we meet First World War veteran doctor Bert Berendsen (Christian Bale) and lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington), who forged a lasting allegiance during the conflict. Reluctantly roped into investigating the mysterious death of their former Army commander - which sees Taylor Swift make a brief but impressive appearance - the pair find themselves in the frame for an unexpected murder.

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Suddenly, Bert's narration springs into flashback, speeding to his time in the First World War, when he and Harold made a pact of friendship with the nurse, Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), who saved their lives. A friendship that does, indeed, take them to Amsterdam - although this segment runs on for what an indulgent amount of time. When we finally make it back to the present as the trio find themselves trying to enlist the help of General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro) in order to unmask the murderer and a whole lot more besides.

Russell reportedly worked on the script for six years with Christian Bale in which they discussed "interesting history tidbits" - and therein lies the crux of the problem. The whole film feels like a series of tidbits that never quite come together to form a satisfying whole. The tone is as skittish as a cat in a hot brick factory, with the first part of the film played for laughs, while not generating enough of them, while the second half aims for a gravitas that's hard to go with. This is the sort of territory that the Coen brothers often navigate with style and I couldn't help wonder what they might have achieved with a similar story. Even Bale's doctor Bert Berendsen seems more like a collection of tics - a glass eye, a crazy hairdo, a rarely done up bow-tie - than a fully formed character.

Returning briefly to the glossy nature of the piece, it does hold plenty of surface pleasures. The make-up and costuming are immaculate and captured with a period glow from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The supporting cast also runs wide and deep, with amusing moments from Rami Malek, Anna Taylor-Joy, Andrea Riseborough and Zoe Saldana, among others, although why they didn't simply cast Julian Sands or Michael York as an MI6-agent-cum-bird-watcher rather than have Mike Myers attempt to channel them is anyone's guess. In the end, it's all a bit of a mess, but a very finely crafted one.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2022
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A trio of unlikely friends get mixed up in a murder plot with much wider implications.
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Director: David O Russell

Writer: David O Russell

Starring: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro

Year: 2022

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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