Amsterdam and The ‘Blade Runner Curse’

$80 to $100 million. According to multiple sources, the numbers you’ve just read estimate how much 2022’s Amsterdam will lose in box office revenue. Loosely based on a true story, the film takes place in the 30s following 2 veterans, Doctor Burt Berendsen played by Christian Bale, and his friend Harold Woodman, a lawyer played by John David Washington. They find themselves trying to prove their innocence of murder and casually stumble upon one of the greatest conspiracies in American history.

On top of the names already mentioned, the film has an all-star cast including Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor (Tay Tay Swizzle) Swift, ​​Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, Margot Robbie, Timothy Olyphant, and Robert De Niro. All are brilliant in the film. Amsterdam was directed by David O. Russell, known for fantastic features such as 2010s The Fighter with Marky Mark himself, Mark Wahlberg. So, with everything in its favor, what went wrong? Or did anything go wrong, to begin with? 

In my eyes, methinks Amsterdam might have its own conspiracy. Conspiracy is a strong word, perhaps other terminology could warrant a more appropriate resonance, maybe simply put; Mystery. Mysteries are often solved by detectives, or in this case to tie into the title of this article, a Blade Runner. From what I’ve found, nearly every genre of film has its own “Blade Runner, a feature cursed with poor initial financial and critical benefits, yet over the years finds success in a cult following (I have discussed this topic with more detail in an article found here.) Amsterdam is the Blade runner of the “Mystery,” genre. You could argue it’s more of a “Based on a True Story” film because of how it’s marketed, but trust me, it’s not.

Now, part of holding this mantle does not always mean the respective genre is on a path of financial failure. 2019’s Knives Out did well, producing a sequel coming later this year, with more planned. A big difference between Amsterdam and Knives Out though is that similar to Blade Runner, Amsterdam has weight and requires the audience to be engaged with the story and setting, paying attention to how each element ties together to help craft a satisfying conclusion. Knives out’s success relied on being a smart story for an unintelligent audience. 

An ability to mislead the viewer is an important and powerful step in crafting a memorable mystery narrative. Amsterdam easily achieves this well, with varying perspectives having different characters voice over the same scene, or setting up ideas that seem meaningless at the time yet hold great value later. A discussion over bird watching comes to mind, which helps persuade the audience into thinking they’re 2, maybe even 3, steps ahead, yet to only have the floor fall out from under their feet.

On a technical level, I found the most problems in the just over 2-hour runtime. Match-to-action errors are rampant throughout, with new camera angles of the same scene having characters standing in different locations, or using different hands in a close-up than was used in the wide shot. The themes and the core of the film keep these problems from standing out. Friendship, Truth, and Happiness define the story found in Amsterdam.

The element though, that makes Amsterdam stand out from modern cinema is heart, an actual message, and reason for the story to exist. Its use of character development through the lead in Christain Bale, beautifully ties the, on their own, almost non-sensical ideas and story threads helping to keep what could be a mess of a narrative glued together. You can see with this in mind, why today’s mobs of moviegoers wouldn’t be as ecstatic as they are for something like Thor: Love and Thunder.

Without spoiling major plot points I’ll leave it as this, I cannot recommend it enough, a fantastic mystery, with a fun and satisfying payoff. Outside the film, the conspiracy surrounding Amsterdam, in years to come, may hold one more piece to the puzzle in understanding why good films don’t make money.

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