In AMSTERDAM (2022), three people forming a bond during the First World War become tangled in the Business Plot of 1933. Despite a huge celebrity cast, an important message, and the light cast on a pretty scary event in U.S. history, the movie flounders in an overbaked plot that takes too long to get going. I liked it, didn’t love it.
The movie starts with a murder of a beloved general who led troops in combat in the First World War, which embroils a doctor, a nurse, and a lawyer who formed a friendship in a recovery ward during the war. Over time, they uncover a nefarious plot to recruit a popular Marine general to lead a fascist coup.
The movie says it’s based on true events, and yes, General Smedley Butler did indeed claim to be approached by representatives of some of the richest men in America whose corporations had close ties to Germany and feared President Roosevelt’s New Deal. General Butler eventually exposed the plot and testified to Congress. This is pretty scary stuff, an important bit of history you don’t learn at school. Robert De Niro does an impressive job filling the general’s shoes.
Otherwise, Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington shine in their roles, but the story is fairly overwritten, with way too much time spent on developing their friendship and meandering quirky bird walks. By the time the plot is exposed and things start to move in earnest, the story becomes sketchy and not enough to overcome the inertial drag of the first half, and it all emotionally fell flat for me. I believe writer/director David O. Russell, whose films include THREE KINGS and AMERICAN HUSTLE–which I loved–wanted to thematically juxtapose the chaos of democracy, love, art, and humanity against the cold (not to mention overblown and frankly untrue) efficiency of fascism, which is great, but it all came across for me as sappy and earnest (great) but overstuffed and airy (not that great). For me, the friendship is overdone and not terribly interesting, and the Business Plot is underdone while being far more interesting.
Overall, I liked AMSTERDAM. I liked its light on an important but often overlooked bit of American history, its themes of the importance of human values that contradict fascism, the acting and sets, and its overall ambition. Unfortunately, for me, it just couldn’t make its parts add up to achieve what it wanted to be, and as a result sometimes it felt like work.