There was a lingering feeling of ambiguity and anticipation on Sunday night at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the site of 20th Century Studios’ worldwide premiere of David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam.”
Russell has not released a new film in nearly seven years — his last feature was 2015’s “Joy” with Jennifer Lawrence. Given his various controversies and 2011 sexual assault allegation, it was unclear whether Hollywood would re-embrace the director with open arms. And then Drake walked out on stage.
“This is just a real moment,” Drake said. “So I am here to introduce the extremely talented, very legendary, one of the most handsome men in Hollywood. He goes by the name of David O. Russell.”
Drake, who serves as an executive producer on “Amsterdam,” was one of many influential figures that readily praised the director during the film’s New York premiere. Russell has been accused of exhibiting antagonistic behavior toward his actors on several occasions, and his niece alleged that he sexually assaulted her in a police report filed in 2011, a claim he did not deny. The case was eventually closed without charges being filed.
Russell’s latest film is a star-studded, quirky crime thriller set in the 1930s that follows three friends — two soldiers played by Christian Bale and John David Washington and a nurse portrayed by Margot Robbie — who find themselves at the center of one of the most shocking secret plots in American history.
Washington told Variety that what makes “Amsterdam” distinct is its cast, and the fact that Emmanuel Lubezki (aka Chivo) was on board as cinematographer. “I think it was just a great blend of of comedy and levity, and there’s the historical content which is great. It’s just a gumbo of fun and adventure, companionship and friendship within the historical backdrop in this country.”
Mike Myers, who plays a supporting role, said that “Amsterdam” has shades of George Roy Hill’s filmography.
“David is such a student of cinema. It’s part of a long tradition of really warm movies,” Myers told Variety. “I said that I felt it had shades of ‘Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’ and ‘The Sting.’ It felt like the film had that same excitement you had for those ’70s movies, but it’s its own thing.”
The screening of “Amsterdam” was followed by a Q&A featuring Russell, Robbie, Myers, Michael Shannon, Rami Malek, Andrea Riseborough and Timothy Olyphant. The panel conversation was moderated by Ben Stiller, the star of Russell’s second feature film “Flirting With Disaster.”
“First of all, congratulations on the movie — and congratulations on being one of our great American filmmakers. I love you, David,” Stiller said. “As a filmmaker, so much of who you are comes through on the screen. Your energy, your feeling — and you do something as a director to create something that’s very unique.”
The panel discussed the film’s central thematic messages of friendship and optimism, how the plot is inspired by real-life events (Russell claimed his story is about 50-60% accurate) and the notion of history repeating itself. Reminiscing on his time shooting “Flirting With Disaster,” Stiller explained that he felt Russell’s process was intentionally chaotic.
“I remember when we worked a long time ago this feeling of intentional kind of chaos,” Stiller said. “I think that’s intentional because you’re trying to shake up what might be the normal thing that you’re supposed to do when you’re making a movie.”
Robbie echoed Stiller’s admiration and described working with Russell as a unique experience.
“It’s a completely unique experience,” Robbie said. “I think we can all attest to that. It’s not like working with anyone else. Every day you go to set, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Literally you don’t know what you’re going to shoot that day, which is terrifying and also exhilarating.”
Earlier in the night, Robert De Niro told Variety that Russell is “a wonderful director, very special. So when he does something, you know it’ll be taken notice of, if you will.”