“David shoots a rocket up your arse, creatively,” Andrea Riseborough said at a star-studded post-screening Q&A after the world premiere of Amsterdam in New York City Sunday night. The David in question is writer-director David O. Russell, the five-time Oscar-nominee of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle. This is his first film—or, as the writer-director said on six different occasions, “picture”—since the release of Joy in 2015.
Though the New York Film Festival doesn’t start for another two weeks, it certainly felt like a classic NYFF premiere at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Invited swells were dressed to the nines (and lined around West 66th Street), and wearing masks instructed while also offered a cornucopia of snacks. Presenting the film were its main stars, Christian Bale (making this the third Bale-Russell collaboration), Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. The play three best friends who get caught up in a madcap mystery in 1930s New York that mixes the vibe of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Miller’s Crossing with a knotty The Big Sleep-style yarn, and adds elements of the 1942 film All Through The Night. The picture also flashes back to the titular Dutch capital immediately following World War I, symbolizing a kind of romantic paradise. Alas, other than one establishing shot, everything set there is an interior. No footage of Margot Robbie strolling along canals!
Also present were co-stars Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, and Riseborough, though the rest of the starry cast— including Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldaña, and Matthias Schoenaerts— were absent. Drake, an executive producer on the project, was first on stage to introduce the cast and crew, to some murmurs in the packed house wondering if, indeed, that was Drake. “It’s weird to remind people I’m not just a rapper,” the four-time Grammy-winner and the RIAA’s certified-highest digital singles artist ever said. He also shouted-out his co-producer, Future, credited in the movie as Adel “Future” Nur.
The audience, which included Steve Buscemi (this reporter ran into him in the gents), responded enthusiastically to the movie, laughing at all the right parts. (Riseborough in particular kills it in her supporting role as Bale’s unloving wife. Malek is also sensational as Robbie’s weirdo bird-loving brother.)
After the credits rolled, most of the stars were back, except for De Niro, Bale, and Washington. “They all have to work,” Russell explained, saying De Niro had a 5 a.m. call time and Washington is currently in the middle of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson on Broadway. Ben Stiller, the star of Russell’s early comedy Flirting With Disaster, moderated the chat.
Stiller gushed about how Russell opens himself up and “is very vulnerable” as a director on set, and clearly loved the movie. Indeed, he talked with so much enthusiasm about his interpretation of various scenes that he barely let some of the other actors talk. Malek even mugged to the audience at one point when Stiller cut him off mid-response, but I got the impression no one was too upset. (The pair also goofed about their earlier joint effort, Night at the Museum.)
Robbie said that working with David O. Russell meant that a typical phone call was either “five minutes or six hours,” but she treasured their conversations about the nature of friendship and art, the two things that most drive her character. She added that coming to Russell’s set means not knowing what you are going to shoot each day. “It’s terrifying, but also exhilarating, and puts you in a place where you can find a part of yourself as an artist you haven’t tapped into before.”
The story has elements of actual history to it (to get into more specifics would give plot points away) and Russell said the movie was 50 to 60 percent true. The script, however, emerged from Russell and Christian Bale wanting to create an original set of characters and “backing into history.” They looked at old photographs, “pictures from Roseland Ballroom in New York, with everyone dancing,” scanning faces of lovers and friends and wondering “what’s their story?”