David O. Russell’s Amsterdam is one of the biggest flops of 2022. Russell’s first film in seven years cost a reported $80 million to produce, only grossed about $32 million worldwide during its theatrical run this fall, and stands to lose north of $100 million for Disney. Its performance will undoubtedly land Russell in Director Jail once again, but that’s not to say the film is without its merits, though, especially for Taylor Swift haters.
**SOME AMSTERDAM SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, SO AVERT YOUR EYES IF YOU’RE THE SENSITIVE TYPE!!**
Okay, still with me?
So why would the haters enjoy this dense yet enjoyably weird paean to the power of love, friendship, and abstract art that just about everyone who saw immensely disliked? Taylor Swift gets run over (!) by a jalopy (!!) in the film’s opening minutes, setting the entire film’s plot in motion. Yes, you read that correctly. David O. Russell cast the world’s most famous singer — the one with millions of Swifties worldwide shelling out hundreds of dollars just to sit within hundreds of yards of her — dressed her up in 1930s period garb, had her croon a sweet ditty when her character’s father dies, and then straight up offed her 13 minutes into the movie by way of vehicular homicide. Don’t believe me? I got receipts!
And you wonder why Swifties didn’t turn out in droves to support their Millennial Queen get dragged, quite literally, at the box office? You crazy for this one, David O!
Now, let’s get something straight, lest you misinterpret this author’s stance on either Taylor Swift or David O. Russell. First off, I consider myself a card-carrying Swiftie; as evidence, I humbly submit my 2022 Spotify Wrappedwhere Taylor sits just behind her ex-Harry Styles in my most-listened list. I have long appreciated Swift’s many gifts as both a songwriter and performer, and on a more personal note, I also find inspiration in the way she uses long-simmering resentments and perceived slights to fuel her insatiable appetite for success.
Perhaps more controversially, I’m also a longtime fan of the work of David O. Russell. Yes, I am very aware that he berated Lily Tomlin on-setgot into a fistfight with George Clooney on-setand groped his transgender niece off-set. I don’t find this behavior cool, or defensible. Put more simply: Is he the kind of guy that I’d invite over for tea and crumpets? Probably not. (Let’s be real. I’d be scared and more than a little bit intimidated.) But does Russell also have a wealth of fascinating, complicated, aesthetically appealing, and oftentimes hilarious films under his belt? He does! Undeniably! If my feelings seem to represent a disturbing dichotomy of contradictory stances — he’s a bad person who also makes good movies — my primary defense is that many of us Gen Xers are equipped with the ability to separate the art from the artist.
And as an artist, Russell is not afraid to take risks. I don’t really believe in the whole “ends justify the means” thing, especially if you frequently belittle your collaborators and subordinates, but Russell tends to get results. It’s why the likes of Christian Bale (another complicated figure!), Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Shannon, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, and Chris Rock all signed up to be in Amsterdam. (For everyone’s sake, I wish Chris Rock hadn’t taken this role.) Russell is the kind of director who’s not afraid to take the heat for firing a live round into a cadaver to show the devastating effects that bullets have on a human bodynor does he shy away from showing the pop princess Taylor Swift get run over by motor vehicle. He’s not a perfect guy and he doesn’t make perfect movies, but in today’s cinematic landscape that’s cluttered with cookie-cutter caped crusaders, I’ll continue to give Russell’s flawed yet wholly unique films a chance as long as he continues to find people to finance them. (After what happened with Amsterdamthough, that’s going to be easier said than done.)