By Samuel M Acosta
When I saw the trailer for “Amsterdam”, I was incredibly excited to see this star-studded film. After watching it, I am in awe of the boldness and the artisan nature of the film, yet I am also unable to forget how thoroughly confused I felt during it. While I loved certain scenes and elements of the film, the pacing and plot felt sporadic and disjointed. There were multiple times when I couldn’t help but whisper to myself, “What is going on?” While this didn’t ruin the film for me, it did restrict my ability to enjoy the experience.
“Amsterdam” followed a trio of friends, Burt (Christian Bale), Harold (John David Washington), and Valerie (Margot Robbie) as they wer swept up in a murder accusation. Yet, the deeper they went into clearing their name, they started to uncover a hideous plot that threatened the entire nation. With lives on the line, including their own, the gang hurried to expose a secret society bent on installing a dictatorship in the United States.
The first thing I must address is that the absolutely star-studded cast all performed brilliantly. Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie led the film phenomenally and played their parts with ease. Anya-Joy Taylor and Rami Malek did a great job as a team and created a unique dynamic that made the film’s final act really stand out. Robert De Niro played the role of General Dillenbeck with his typical gruff charm which made his part of the film all the more entertaining to watch. “Amsterdam” also boasted the talents of Zoe Saldana, Chris Rock, Mike Meyers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, and Taylor Swift.
I also loved how the main conflict of the film stemmed from an actual historical event. In the film, a Nazi-affiliated group tried to convince General Dillenbeck, a decorated and beloved figure by all veterans, to help lead a coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and practically put America under a dictatorship. Dillenbeck then went on to expose this group publicly, foiling their plan. This was similar to a real historical event when General Smedley Butler was approached by a group to use his influence to overthrow FDR. While the group wasn’t affiliated with the Nazi party, they did want to install a dictatorship in America.
I love stories that have a base of history in them. It was fascinating to see De Niro and the real General Butler read their speeches exposing the traitors side by side during the credits. Still, most of the story was fictional and this ultimately led to some confusing transitions and pacing that threw me off from the intriguing historical links.
The pacing of this film at the start was incredibly fast, throwing info at the audience faster than the side effects at the end of a medication commercial. It relentlessly plowed through the plot until a shocking murder, which then led to a long flashback setting up the relationships of the main three characters. This section took its time to cement the trio’s dynamic, which I loved. Yet, when the flashback was over, it went right back into moving through the plot incredibly fast.
This left me very disoriented at times. As I was trying to get accustomed to the fast pace, it slowed down, and when I was finally used to it being slow, it sped up. It kept me on the back of my heels and I don’t think I was able to fully take in everything that was happening because of that.
Another thing that threw me off about the film was its seemingly conflicting styles. At times it felt very Hollywood in its cinematography and story elements, while at others it felt extremely art house and indie. While there is nothing wrong with either side on their own, the blend of the two got extremely hard to track. There would be a grounded Hollywood scene and then out of nowhere, there would be an indie-esque scene with something completely crazy, only to snap back and show that it was only in the character’s head and everything was back to normal.
I don’t think that blending both styles was impossible. There were scenes that I loved that contained both elements. I just think that “Amsterdam” struggled to find a balance between the two and it led to confusion about what was going on.
I really did enjoy the film and I think that I would be willing to go see it again. I just think that these flaws made a film that is obviously filled with such heart significantly harder to fully appreciate.
I give this film a 6/10
Amsterdam is now playing in a theater near you
Samuel M Acosta is a Senior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper, and writing plays.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Studios