Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: Christian Bale Foils a Fascist Plot in “Amsterdam”

What to see and what to skip.

AMSTERDAM

**** In 1933, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler testified to Congress about an attempted coup orchestrated by fascism-adoring industrialists who sought to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While Butler’s account was dismissed by many, a special House committee confirmed parts of his story, which has been skillfully stitched into Amsterdam, a poignant and witty historical remix from director David O. Russell (American Hustle). Rather than start at the corrosive heart of what is now known as the Business Plot, Russell shows the conspiracy taking shape through the eyes of Burt (Christian Bale) and Harold (John David Washington), two Word War I veterans falsely accused of murder. Valerie (Margot Robbie), a former nurse who saved their lives during the war, helps them enlist Gen. Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro, playing a Smedley Butler analog) to catch the culprit, but Russell is in no rush to solve a mystery. Leisurely and lovingly, he wraps us in the fabric of Burt, Harold and Valerie’s lives, dwelling on details that are both unnerving and beautiful, like the tea set that Valerie fashions from shrapnel. If Amsterdam believes anything, it’s that democracy is defined by the seemingly small things that make a human being an individual, absurd as they may be. That’s why the climax offers a rousing tribute to radical niceness and the gloriously silly spectacle of Burt singing, getting high, and teaming up with a British secret agent played by Austin Powers himself, Mike Myers. “You gotta fight to protect kindness,” Burt declares. He’s right, but he and Amsterdam are also fighting to protect something else: the liberating, life-giving power of ridiculousness. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard.

BROS

**** From meeting cute to racing through the streets of New York in search of a climactic kiss, romantic comedies are rife with rituals. These moments can feel stale and obligatory, but in Bros, the sting of truth is expressed through the grandeur of fiction. Billy Eichner (who wrote the film with director Nicholas Stoller) stars as Bobby Lieber, a gay, single podcaster numbly living his life one monosyllabic Grindr hookup at a time. Despite his jaded posturing, Bobby is drawn to Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a dashing stranger whom he first sees bathed in beatific blue light at a club. In temperament, they couldn’t be more different—Bobby relishes being the director of a soon-to-open LGBTQ+ history museum, whereas Aaron resists his dream of being a chocolatier because he fears it’s too “faggy.” Can true love transcend insecurity? Just because the answer is familiar doesn’t mean it isn’t moving. While Bros has fine broad-comedy flourishes—including Bobby raging at a bust of Pete Buttigieg in a moment of romantic anguish—it is at its best when it is at its most tender. “Vulnerability is not a boner killer,” a friend tells Bobby. Bros takes those words to heart, embracing the emotional rawness that defines When Harry Met Sally… and You’ve Got Mail, both of which Bobby references. Eichner and Stoller simultaneously carry on and transcend the legacy of those films—theirs is the first rom-com from a major studio with an all-LGTQ principal cast—but they wear the mantle of importance lightly. At a time when hope is a limited resource, the most radical thing about Bros is that it’s a joy. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Academy, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard.

SMILE

**** For horror-movie lovers, it’s rare to find a flick that can really get under your skin, but Smile will leave you looking over your shoulder to make sure no strangers are grinning in your direction. Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Parker Finn, the movie invites you to descend into madness alongside psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) as she attempts to outrun the evil smiling presence that wants her dead. It’s the kind of film best watched behind squinted or fully shut eyes with an audience that unleashes a symphony of screams as each new terror is revealed (in the silence before a scare, I heard an adult woman whisper to a friend beside her, “I’m going to pee my pants”). Seamlessly intertwining indie motifs into a studio production, Finn explores the horrors of mental illness, but unlike certain filmmakers, he doesn’t vilify those who suffer from it (I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan). Eventually, the madness thickens and pulls you under, leaving you to question your own sanity by the time the credits roll. Smile is uniquely haunting and downright disturbing—and I can’t wait to watch it again. R. ALEX BARR. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.

HOLD ME TIGHT

*** In the soft morning light, a mother named Clarisse (Vicky Krieps) packs a bag and ghosts her family, like the setup to a French Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Here, there’s more ennui and chain-smoking, along with Krieps expertly suggesting volumes of conflicted imagination behind a soft smile (as she did equally well in last year’s Bergman Island). Cut back to the abandoned family; they’re trying to survive without Clarisse. Back to Clarisse; she’s unwell, drinking too much without them. Her daughter’s prodigious piano playing emanates through the home and simultaneously from the tape deck of Clarisse’s getaway car. Editor Francois Gedigier works furiously to establish this mirroring, and director Mathieu Amalric (best known for his performances in Munich and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) shows us split worlds, each with a great absence that generates something new. Though it owes a debt to Memento, Hold Me Tight trades more in near-telepathic visions than puzzle pieces. Krieps brilliantly employs her preternatural normalcy to ground a character whose new life on the road seems fueled by emotion alone. While none of the other performances in the film equal Krieps’, the dense illusion of a broken family rewards your attention. Is Clarisse running, or running to stand still? NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.