Saturday, January 21, 2023

Review: "AMSTERDAM" is a Movie That Follows the Right God Home

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 4 of 2023 (No. 1893) by Leroy Douresseaux

Amsterdam (2022)
Running time:  134 minutes (2 hours, 14 minutes)
MPA – R for brief violence and bloody images
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  David O. Russell
PRODUCERS:  David O. Russell, Christian Bale, Matthew Budman, Anthony Katagas, and Arnon Milchan
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Emmanuel Lubezki (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Jay Cassidy
COMPOSER:  Daniel Pemberton


Starring:  Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, Ed Begley, Jr., Beth Grant, and Robert De Niro

Amsterdam is a 2022 comedy, period drama, and historical film from writer-director David O. Russell.  The film is based on the 1933 United States political conspiracy “the Business Plot,” which involved a secret plan to overthrow the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to install a dictator in its place.  Amsterdam follows three friends who seek to uncover the truth behind the mysterious death and apparent murder of a retired U.S. general.

Amsterdam introduces Burt Berendsen M.D. (Christian Bale), a physician and surgeon.  In 1918, his estranged wife, Beatrice Vandenheuvel (Andrea Riseborough) and her parents, who don't really care for Burt because he is “half-Jew,” bully him into enlisting to fight in World War I.  While stationed in France, Burt befriends an African-American soldier, Harold Woodman (John David Washington).

Later, after being severely injured in battle, Burt and Harold are nursed back to health by Valerie Bandenberg (Margot Robbie), an eccentric American nurse and artist who makes art out of shrapnel removed from the soldiers.  Burt and Harold befriend Valerie and follow her to Amsterdam, the capitol of the Netherlands.  There, they live together and Harold and Valerie engage in a budding romance.  First, Burt returns to New York City to be with his wife, and then, Harold returns to begin his career as an attorney.

In 1933, Burt owns his own medical practice that caters to veterans of WWI, and he still remains friends with Harold.  Things begin to change for them when they discover that General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley, Jr.), who was important to Burt and Harold during the war, has died.  His daughter, Elizabeth Meekins (Taylor Swift), believes that her father was murdered.  Soon, Elizabeth herself is murdered, and Burt and Harold are blamed.  Seeking to clear themselves, they begin to investigate the mystery surrounding General Meekins before his death, which leads to their reunion with Valerie.  She had also returned to America and is living in seclusion with her wealthy brother, Tom Voze (Rami Malek) and his wife, Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy).

The three friends find themselves in a conspiracy involving another retired military officer, Marine Corps General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro).  And everything is heading for a showdown at an event that is very important to Burt, the 14th Annual New York Veterans Reunion Gala.

Yeah, dear readers, the synopsis of the film's plot is a bit longer than I would like it to be.  Although Amsterdam's narrative only runs a little under two hours and ten minutes, the film has enough subplots, characters, and settings to fill a television miniseries.  Actually, a miniseries version of Amsterdam with the same cast would be orgasmic – well, at least for me it would.

Anyway, most of you, dear readers, are familiar (to one extent or another) with the event known as the “January 6 United States Capitol attack.”  On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, a (mostly) white mob attacked the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The members of mob were comprised of supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and they were seeking to keep Trump in power by preventing a joint session of the U.S. Congress from counting the electoral college votes to formalize the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

That event led journalists, historians, and writers to recall other insurrections and attempts to overthrow a democratically elected U.S. government.  The Business Plot is one of them.  It has also been referred to as “the Wall Street Putsch” because the people behind it were allegedly wealthy American businessmen.  They hoped to overthrow the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt by creating a fascist organization comprised of World War I veterans that would be led by Marine Corp General Smedley Butler, a hero of WWI and a veteran of several military conflicts.  After this military led coup and overthrow of the government, the plotters would install Butler as a dictator.

Butler, upon whom Amsterdam's Gen. Dillenbeck is based, himself is the one who revealed the Business Plot.  At the time, some of the press considered the Business Plot to be hoax, although a congressional committee investigating the plot believed that it was discussed and at least partially planned.

Amsterdam is a film that is kind of like a fairy tale version the Business Plot with Burt (ostensibly the story's lead character), Harold, and Valerie as the gallant trio fighting the mysterious bad guys.  In this manner, the film is filled with conniving wizards (rich businessmen), evil knights (the killers of Gen. Meekins), and menagerie of oddball characters and creature-types, which is a good way to describe even Amsterdam's heroic trio.  As I said earlier, I think that the manner in which writer-director David O. Russell tells this story, it needs to be done in a longer form.

Still, one thing at which Russell really excels is in creating ensemble films featuring a cast that delivers stellar performances which in turn creates the most interesting cinematic characters.  He has done that with a large ensemble, as in the case of his highly-acclaimed 2013 film, American Hustle, and with an intimate small ensemble, such as in his Oscar-winning 2012 film, Silver Linings Playbook.

Christian Bale delivers another amazing performance as Burt Berendsen.  Margot Robbie is eccentric and delightful as Valerie, and John David Washington is dashing, bold, and stalwart as Harold.  Robbie and Washington have excellent chemistry and thus, are convincing as a couple.  Anya Taylor-Joy, beautiful and radiant as always, effortlessly slays in her turn as the vain and insecure attention-seeker, Libby Voze.  Of course, Robert De Niro, as Gen. Dillenbeck, turns up the heat in the film's most pivotal moments.

Rami Malek, Chris Rock, and Zoe Saldana also shine in key supporting roles, and Taylor Swift's quick spin as Bill Meekins' daughter, Elizabeth, gives the film an early jolt.  So the smaller roles help to make Amsterdam that much better as a top notch ensemble film.

In the film, the city of Amsterdam seems to represent a place where people can be their authentic selves while accepting that others must also be allowed to be their authentic selves, even if that might lead to clashes of personality and belief.  Amsterdam is not perfect, but it is lovable because of its idiosyncratic way, and that makes me look forward to the next large ensemble film from the inimitable David O. Russell.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Saturday, January 21, 2023

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