DUBAI: Rami Malek was searching for this. After the Egyptian-American actor won an Academy Award for his acclaimed performance as Queen’s late frontman Freddie Mercury in 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he didn’t want his meteoric rise to plateau. He wanted to work with the best artists in the world, he wanted something that felt unlike anything else, he wanted a project with a message he believed in. He wanted “Amsterdam.”
The film, which opens in the Middle East this week, is the latest from David O. Russell, the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker behind “The Fighter” (2010), “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), and “American Hustle” (2013). In Malek’s eyes, it is all he had hoped for and more. It’s a film aimed at the best of us, following three people seemingly broken by a society that appears to have no use for them, who choose love — for themselves, for each other, and for the world around them — to fight for what is right, however oddly they go about it.
“You’ve probably heard this, and I hope it’s not a cliché to say this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a film that just spoke to me,” says Malek, who filmed “Amsterdam” after becoming a Bond villain in “No Time to Die” and a police investigator opposite Denzel Washington in “The Little Things,” both released in 2021.
“It’s based on something as simple as weighing love versus hate, and that resounds throughout the film. It delivers as this great comedic thriller, along with this shocking, untold history, but all the while has these themes that just resonate with all of us,” Malek continues.
That’s not to say that “Amsterdam” is as bright and cheery as you may first expect, based on the effervescence of its leads, which include Oscar winners Christian Bale and Margot Robbie. The film, set in the 1930s, follows three people dealing with post-war injuries attempting to solve the murder of a young woman that happened right in front of them, and take down the larger conspiracy that is bent on pinning the crime on them, among other horrid deeds the trailer doesn’t want to spoil. Malek plays Robbie’s brother — an eccentric, extremely wealthy philanthropist.
While the film gets extremely dark at times, for Russell, that’s exactly why he needed characters that would not feel tainted by the darkness all around, and a handful of the most charismatic actors in the world to play them. It’s an idea he got from watching Jack Nicholson star in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974).
“I didn’t understand the importance of this when I first saw ‘Chinatown,’ to be honest. But I noticed they had a sense of humor, they had a love of life, they had a confidence, and a gleam in their eye. They had tragedy from their past. But, nevertheless, it did not stop them,” Russell tells Arab News.
For Bale, the only way to move forward from tragedy is by finding that gleam in your eye.
“Hope and optimism are really truly the only answer because, as I think it still says in the film, the alternative is no good,” says Bale.
Filling out the cast is a true murderer’s row — pardon the pun — of talent, with Anya Taylor-Joy playing Malek’s wife, Taylor Swift their close family friend, and Robert De Niro as a retired general, with a three-time Oscar winner behind the camera — cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “Birdman,” “The Revenant”), affectionately known in Hollywood as ‘Chivo.’
“This cast is an orchestra, and everybody’s playing their own instrument and it’s gorgeous. It was one of those sets where you’re not running back to your trailer, because you want to watch what’s happening. And beyond all this, these are people that are at the top of their game,” says Malek.
In the film, Amsterdam becomes a metaphor for the happiest time in their lives, the place they are fighting to get back to. For Malek, looking back on his experience in filming it, his own ‘Amsterdam’ is now the set of the film itself.
“I think when we were done with this film, I asked myself, what is my Amsterdam? What is that moment where I had emotion, but I also had this great connection with human beings that led me to a place where I was able to transcend? And I think for me, that will be a part of a film that will have audiences feeling that as they walk out. That is something that will be a sacred thing for me long after this film premieres,” says Malek. “And yeah, it’s going to stand the test of time.”