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Amsterdam is the most fun you can have watching a film about veterans

Amsterdam is a wonderfully acted, filmed and paced movie that will keep your eyes on the screen and tug at the strings of your heart.
Joel Searls Avatar
amsterdam
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of imdb.com.

Amsterdam is a wonderfully acted, filmed and paced movie that will keep your eyes on the screen, tug at the strings of your heart and stimulate the laughter in your soul. It stars some of Hollywood’s greatest with Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Anna Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Taylor Swift, Michael Shannon and Mike Myers! What a cast, and what fun they have chewing up the scenery and dialogue. David O. Russell has a hit here and brings all of his marvelous directing talents into this film, which in many ways is a tongue-in-cheek neo-noir.

From the atmosphere, lighting, style, clothing, cars and ambiance, we have ourselves something memorable, lovely and touching that has rarely, if ever, been seen before in a film like this with military veteran characters at its center. Sit back, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy a mix of nostalgia for Old Hollywood intertwined with modern storytelling techniques, humor and cinematography.

amsterdam film poster
Amsterdam film poster.

Amsterdam starts with a bang and we are pulled into the lives of our main characters: Christian Bale as Dr. Bert Berendsen, who is a World War I veteran and has a glass eye from an injury in the war; and John David Washington as Harold Woodsman, a fellow World War I veteran and attorney. We come to find Berendsen doing an autopsy on Senator Meekins, who with Berendsen, has a good history. We learn these two veterans met on the battlefield of World War I in a medical unit that was mistreated and forced to wear French uniforms over their U.S. uniforms because of their race.

Chris Rock’s role as Milton King, a fellow World War I veteran member of the medical unit, brings much anger mixed with humor at the situation of racism throughout the movie. The situation is based on reality as it is taken from what black soldiers of the Harlem Hellfighters were faced with during World War I. The Harlem Hellfighters did have to wear French uniforms and were not allowed to fight alongside white soldiers. Of note, the Harlem Hellfighters in World War I was the first troops to cross the Rhine and enter Germany; 500 Hellfighters received the French Croix De Guerre and the unit was one of the most decorated units of World War I. It is great that David O. Russell, as writer/director, integrated such truth, reality and gritty wartime experiences so eloquently into his script.

zoe saldana
Zoe Saldana in Amsterdam.

Once we finish seeing the horrors of war in Europe, Berendsen and Woodsman are cared for by nurse Valerie Voze, aka Margot Robbie, who delights the audience with her presence and innate fun! Woodsman and Voze strike up a relationship while they enjoy Amsterdam with their third wheel, although highly lovable, Berendsen. Voze departs the romance and friendship abruptly, yet we will see her again. Meanwhile, back in present-day, 1930s New York, Berendsen is still handling Senator Meekins, a former General who formed the unit that Berendsen and Woodsman fought in during the war, autopsy which is highly suspected that he may have been murdered. Taylor Swift portrays Elizabeth Meekins, the daughter of Senator Meekins, who wants to know more about her father’s death. The dynamic duo of doctor and lawyer sleuths embark on a journey to find the answers and are framed by a hitman for murder, oh how the plot thickens!

amsterdam cast
Amsterdam cast: Margot Robbie, Anna Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Christian Bale, and Robert De Niro.

Now we have our two main characters being tracked by the NYPD, all the while, Berendsen’s wife and her elitist family of doctors want nothing to do with him because he wants to treat Black veterans, especially those from his unit. Berendsen is thrown out of his practice with his father-in-law and forced to practice medicine with the black veterans in an alley and from what appears to be some type of 1920s-1930s Ford panel delivery truck, which is tragic and likely took place during the period.

We find out who the real people are in the world of the 1930s and Russell’s writing with historical input, which rings true in light of the inherent lighthearted comedy laced throughout the film. Berendsen continues to help his fellow veterans, while tracking down the real killer of Senator Meekins and his daughter. We find an underground Nazi scheme here as well, which is all precursors to the Second World War, in which a commentary is made by Berendsen about how World War I was enough fighting and death for a lifetime—more true words.

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Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Christian Bale, Chris Rock and Robert De Niro.

Berendsen and Woodsman engage with the help of Tom Voze, acted by Mr. Rami Malek, and we reunite the trio from the war as Valerie Voze is, you guessed it (not Frank Stallone, see Norm MacDonald), the sister to Tom. After some brief moments, the crew is ready for action and is sent to find a famous Marine Major General Gil Dillenbeck portrayed by the Godfather himself, Robert De Niro. Major General Dillenbeck draws significantly from real-life Marine Major General Smedley Butler, who, at the time of his death, was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. Dillenbeck is a Marine’s Marine and a war hero through and through, much like the real-life Butler, who is one of 19 men in U.S. history to have earned the Medal of Honor twice.

De Niro even resembles the real-life Butler as well (see below). Dillenbeck is involved in the film’s portrayal of yet another historical instance with the Bonus Army, just like Butler (see our friend Wikipedia). The trio convinces Dillenbeck that a plot is going on by unseen forces in New York City and the US to take over the government and oust President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The plot again thickens and again is based on real U.S. history with the Business Plot. The Business Plot occurred in the 1930s when Butler was approached by wealthy businessmen in the US with the plan to install him as the leader of a dictatorship while removing FDR from power. Substitute Butler for Dillenbeck, and you have more treachery, intrigue and drama for Amsterdam.

smedley butler
Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC. (Public domain)

To keep any finale spoilers from taking away from your viewing pleasure, you will have to see the film and its masterful final showdown with Dillenbeck meeting the conspirators and confronting them. We find inspiration and truth in De Niro’s portrayal fitting of a great Marine general. Berendsen, Voze and Woodsman bring their best as well with the surprising twist and funny quips we have come to expect from Russell.

The entire cast converges at the end as well, so be on the lookout for Rock, Shannon and Myers too. It is a great film that Hollywood has not seen the likes of before, which is one of Russell’s specialties. Semper Fi Mac!