IIt all starts with a murder. Or maybe two murders. One is unequivocal: a young woman is pushed into the path of oncoming traffic on a busy street in 1930s New York, just as she reveals a crucial piece of this deliberately confusing multidimensional puzzle from a movie. . The second murder is the alleged poisoning of the woman’s father, a military hero and former commanding officer of Burt, a doctor (Christian Bale, exaggerated), and Harold (John David Washington, virtually inert), a lawyer. Burt and Harold find themselves in the crosshairs of the law, charged with the death of the woman.
But just as you begin to get to grips with David O Russell’s elastic approach to a real-life conspiracy in the United States in the 1930s, the story rewinds. We find ourselves in 1918, the day after the First World War; Burt and Harold, wounded brothers-in-arms, bond with Valerie (Margot Robbie), a nurse at a Belgian field hospital who collects their bloody shrapnel to incorporate into her mixed-media concept art. Magnetic, well-connected and bohemian, she’s the reason they all end up living in post-war Amsterdam for a while, closest friends and, in Valerie and Harold’s case, lovers. If you’re still following the story, congratulations: you’re doing better than most viewers.
Russell’s latest pic has the ambitious structural complexity of his 2013 hit american hustle, but lacks the effortless rhythms and consistency of that movie. Russell’s directorial sizzle is very present, but there’s an edge of desperation in the exposition bits that block the flow of this already meandering tale.