David O. Russell’s latest movie, Amsterdam, is a murder mystery/ thriller with elements of satire, conspiracy, and entertainment. A director known for his mercurial successes like The Fighter and American Hustle, Russell concocts a bizarre, chaotic film seasoned with soft humor, tight friendships and bonds, and witty sarcasm. The movie was released on the 7th of October, 2022, with a lengthy running time of 134 minutes.
Written by David O. Russell himself, the narrative of the movie is based on the Business Plot, an alleged proposal to put a military general (rather than a dictator) in the White House in place of the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Set in 1933 New York, the film explores the themes of a fascist coup which went horribly wrong and dug deeper into the dynamics of social balances and power.
The casting of the movie is phenomenal. Consisting of some of the most versatile and famed actors, the movie creates an atmosphere of glamour and high expectations among the audience. The year is 1933, a time of rich historicity in war-torn America, where we are introduced to two ex-veteran companions, Burt Berensden, played by Christian Bale, and Harold Woodsman, played by John David Washington.
Burt, who also provides a narrative monologue to the spectators about the incidents, is also a practicing doctor, aiding veterans who had been profoundly affected by the war. Sporting a glass eye, he is a reputed doctor who conducts an annual gala to felicitate the recognition that war veterans deserve but never get.
Burt is friends with Harold Woodsman, an ex-veteran who served in the racially mixed battalion in France in World war I. Now as practicing lawyers, these two work to aid veterans medically and legally. They had also met an unconventional nurse during the war years, Valerie Voze, played by Margot Robbie.
A spark of friendship ignited among the three, eventually resulting in strong, undying bonds of friendship and camaraderie. The trio in itself contains major names, but the supporting roles include Rami Malek as Valerie’s older brother, Tom Voze, Anya Taylor-Joy as his wife, and Robert De Niro as the righteous general Dillenbeck.
Amsterdam Movie Plot
The movie starts off with a murder. The scene is shot in 1933 New York City, Harlem, 138th street, where Dr. Burt treats wounded soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He runs an annual gala, hoping to make his old regiment commander the key speaker for this year. His old buddy, Harold, informs him that he has returned from his voyage in England as a dead man.
Suspecting that the death was through foul play and not natural causes, the two companions are hired by Elizabeth Meekins, played by the renowned artist Taylor Swift, who demands an autopsy be conducted to reveal the causes of death. The off-the-grid autopsy reveals that he was gradually poisoned.
Realizing that something is amiss, Liz appears distraught when meeting the two young men. When she is about to reveal a crucial puzzle that will bring the mystery together, she is shoved into the path of oncoming traffic by an unknown man clad in a suit, and the duo is framed for her murder, finding themselves at the wrong end of the investigation.
The atmosphere for a conspiratorial murder is set up. But we find ourselves in a flashback from 1918, the aftermath of the first world war. A younger Berendsen joined an all-Black squad to fight the Kaiser, where he encountered Harold. The two are seen grievously wounded in a scene where our third most integral character enters, Valerie Voze, the nurse who takes care of the mutilated and injured veterans.
She represents the avant-garde of the society, creating art from the shrapnel and debris she removed from the bodies of the soldier, a metaphorical depiction of repurposing mass-destructing tools into Dadaist art. She is seen as a quirky and intimidating woman who smokes pipes. There is a certain mysteriousness to her character. She is not really French but an American exploring Europe.
For a while, the three reside in Amsterdam in a safe haven of their own characterized by art. However, the squad dismantles when Burt decides to go back to the USA to reunite with his estranged wife, Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough). By the time the trio meets again, corpses and conspiracies have riddled their lives, and it is up to them to get to the bottom of this.
As we return back to the current state of affairs, we witness Burt and Harold attempting to find out who had led Elizabeth to hire them in order to clear their names. This leads them to Tom Voze, a wealthy textile owner, his wife, and his sister, Valerie.
It comes to light that Valerie was the one who convinced Elizabeth to hire them. Valerie is kept under constant supervision by Tom, who suggests they talk to General Gil Dillenbeck, a famous general who delivered speeches on empowering veterans and a friend of Meekins.
While Burt is on a mission to contact Dillenbeck, Harold, and Valerie, spend the day at her house, where they notice the hitman. Observing his actions intently, they follow him to a clinic only to find that it is not the usual clinic. It is a forced sterilization owned by a shady, mysterious organization called the “Committee of Five.” After a heated fight with the hitman, the duo reunites with Burt.
Valerie takes them to Waldorf Astoria, where they meet spies from the American Intelligence community, Paul Canterbury, played by Mike Myers, and Henry Norcross, played by Michael Shanon. Paul and Henry explain to the trio that the Committee of Five plans on overthrowing the existing democracy of America to create a fascist state and that Dillenbeck would be a great asset to foil their plot.
The gala marks the ending of the movie, in which Russell delves into the themes of political chicanery and the wealth of rich, manipulative businessmen. The ending reveals who the real mastermind and the plot come together at the end, talking about a world where corruption, politics, and the power of influential people play a very important role.
The end is quite heavy and explosive, where our narrator talks about embracing the truth and talks about the reality of power politics and the toppling of balance in the political scenario. The movie ends with the trio parting ways, with Bert staying behind in the USA and Valerie and Harold leaving the States secretively.
Also read: 15 Best Crime Movies of all Time.
Amsterdam Review: Delving Into The Plot And Its Complexities
To be very precise, the movie is quite complex. The plot can be subdivided into several parts, with Russell interlacing the politics of three different countries in a war-torn era marked by other heavy, sensitive themes of racial discrimination, corruption, and manipulation. This implies that the plot is quite busy and cacophonic, having a vibe of being “everything, all at once,” and in the end, it all comes together.
The movie talks about the structural intricacies and realities of societal divisions. Wealth is viewed as an important element in the movie, being able to swerve the thinking abilities of people. However, the movie has a strong message.
Amidst the material commotion and the thirst for accumulation of money, there are still people left in this world, the ‘outcasts’ who have rejected the idea of material rush and embraced art and love. Art is a strong emotion, an unbreakable essence that has been prevalent throughout society for ages. Art is a revolution, art is a sentiment, and art has emotionality attached to itself.
Though the movie has been made keeping in mind the historical timeline, the teleology is still universal. In times of war, art, and love saves us. In this era of nuclear race and political corruption, art represents a strong sentiment of dissent.
We see it on the walls containing graffiti. We see it being expressed in books and literature. The movie embodies Valerie as an avant-garde, engaging in art and creating art through war debris. This carries a strong message showing the negativity of war and focusing on the power art contains. Amsterdam is an engaging narrative about a heated discourse on politics.
It attaches a historicity to itself, depicting the harrowing situations of war. It talks about how the moneyed bourgeoise and elites pit the working class against each other. However, poverty sees no distinction in terms of race or class.
The plot is quite similar to American Hustle, one of the most known movies by the same director, but it lacks a sense of engagingness to itself. Personally, while watching the movie, I felt that a lot of things has been going on.
Ranging from topics of birdwatching to racial discrimination to sterilization clinics to a fascist coup, the movie overall feels like a slippery mess which, if one tread into is most probably going to trip three times at least. The conspiracy could have turned out to be quite engaging, but the script and the execution made it quite elongated and tiring to watch.
Amsterdam Review: The Symbolism of the City of Amsterdam
The city of Amsterdam in itself is full of emotions and sentiments of goodness for the trio. For them, it is a city of dreams and hopes, a city where they would be themselves without the hindrance of other people and society in general.
It is what Margot Robbie herself has labeled as the ‘good part,’ the part where the trio can be themselves. The city, which embraced their madness and their dynamism, was considered a safe space for them. They could be whoever or whatever they wanted to be. As they parted ways, they bid adieu to a part of themselves, the remnants they wished they could sustain as they moved on from Amsterdam.
The city resembled their past selves, which they lost. Valerie, who was an independent thinker and artist, lost a part of herself the day she left Amsterdam. She went back to her family, who tried to slowly poison her nervous system by feeding her medicines, which made her develop a nervous disorder.
The city holds remnants of them, which bring to the surface, feelings of nostalgia and closeness. It is a geographical location of friendships, bonding, madness, and memories that the trio wished they could have again after parting ways.
Exploring The Theme of Friendship And Assessing The Characters
In my opinion, Amsterdam’s greatest strength lies in the way they executed the themes of camaraderie and friendship. Exploring the themes of love, emotions, bonds, and friendship, the film concludes on a bright note.
In a world riddled with monstrosities, love, and friendship are the things we need. In 1918, Burt, Harold, and Valerie were characters of brimming positivity, of futures envisioning a glimmer of hope. Keeping in mind the devastating timeline, Russell focuses on the joyfulness and pleasures the three seek in their lives while showing a developing chemistry between Harold and Valerie.
Even the background lighting and setup resemble warm, golden, and vibrant tones resembling a youthful love interest. However, due to the plot, we do not see much of their romance, but the lingering sensuality remains, creating an eclectic duo. Moreover, the trio makes an idiosyncratic bunch, having distinct personalities and an unusual dynamic, but it is quite interesting how they operate.
Not to forget the near to perfect execution of Rami Malek, a shrewd man of power with quite disturbing political beliefs, and Anya Taylor-Jones, the wife who operated behind the scenes. The performance of Dillenbeck and the two spies was also quite impactful. The ‘swift’ and brief appearance of Taylor Swift was also quite enjoyable.
Amsterdam is an enjoyable watch, talking about political discourses and exploring themes of love and friendship. However, the movie lags behind in trying to captivate the audience because there is simply too much going on in the plot, and the execution is quite flawed.
Overall, the result is uneven because the time period and the elements captured by Russell are quite interesting, and the cast is phenomenal, but the script and plot of the movie are quite exhausting and boring as one can easily zone out in between.
Our Rating: ⭐ (2.5/5).
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