Trailer expectation is a thing. A phrase like that could indicate something bad or good. At the end of the day, taste will determine which side of that divide on which you fall. Either way, trailers are meant to build expectations. That is their reason for existence. The hope is that they will get you wanting to see the movie that is chopped up before your eyes in the preview. It worked for me, and Cameron, when it came to Amsterdam. I believe on separate occasions we expressed to each other our desires to see it. Obviously, we had only the trailer on which to base our hopes. I do not know about you, but when I watch a preview, I develop an idea of how I think this random collection of shots is going to play out when strung together into a full-length motion picture. If it does not match what I have in my mind, I am often disappointed. Perhaps this is unfair, but I will again play the personal tastes card. Occasionally, a film will be different than what I expect, and it turns out to be a classic anyway. That is not the case for Amsterdam.
Having said all this about previews for Amsterdam, I would have begun it differently. The trailer focuses on Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), Harold Woodsman (John David Washington), and Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), three apparently inseparable friends. Yet, I guess we have start with a mystery. This is set in motion when Harold, a lawyer in New York City, approaches his best friend and physician, Dr. Berendsen, to perform an autopsy. As narrated throughout by Dr. Berendsen, he works in a ramshackle office treating the wounds of World War I veterans. By “treating,” I mean he helps develop new pain medications for them, and performs rudimentary plastic surgery to help hide the scars incurred in battle. He does not do autopsies, but Harold has been hired by Elizabeth Meekins (Taylor Swift) to look into the death of her father. This gets Dr. Berendsen’s attention because her father is Senator Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.). During the war, he had been General Bill Meekins, and the officer responsible for organizing the regiment in which they served. Elizabeth suspects foul play, but before they can get the results of the autopsy confirming this to her, she is pushed into traffic and run over by a car, killing her. Her assailant, Tarim Milfax (Timothy Olyphant), takes advantage of the crowd where the murder takes place to blame the act on Dr. Berendsen and Harold, who had been standing nearby at the moment of the attack. They are now on the run and in need of clearing their name. Notice anything missing so far? If you guessed Valerie, then you are correct. With the mystery set up, I suppose, the movie now shifts gears to fill you in on how a white doctor and a black lawyer became so close, it being 1933 and all. During the Great War, Dr. Berendsen had been essentially forced by his wife, Beatrice Vandenheuvel (Andrea Riseborough), and her family to enlist. Once in France, he is assigned as an officer to an all African American regiment in which Harold is serving. They quickly form a pact to look out for each other, and are wounded in the same battle. The nurse who treats their wounds is Valerie, and she becomes a part of their pact. She eventually takes them to Amsterdam as part of their convalescence until, to Valerie’s disappointment, Dr. Berendsen and Harold must return to New York. Now over a decade later, Dr. Berendsen and Harold turn to Beatrice, who does not allow her husband to live with her while he practices his brand of medicine. She suggests that they go to see textile magnate Tom Voze (Rami Malek) because he might have the contacts to get their names cleared. If you are wondering, wait, is that not Valerie’s last name? The guys apparently never asked her surname while they were in Europe. This is revealed when they find Valerie living in the Voze mansion, and that she is Tom’s sister. Harold is the most hurt because he and Valerie had been lovers, making Dr. Berendsen a very dear third wheel. At any rate, Tom and his wife, Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy), agree that they should go to famed veteran Marine General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro). Dr. Berendsen and Harold know of General Dillenbeck by reputation, and have met him on two occasions. Valerie, though, does not believe that Tom’s motivations are pure, and thinks that he has been trying to poison her with medicines he and Libby have been giving her for a number of years. This leads them to uncovering a clinic run by a secret organization calling itself the Committee of Five. Armed with this knowledge, they approach General Dillenbeck with a suspicion that he is caught up in a conspiracy. Senator Meekins had been their first choice, but they killed him when he refused. This is corroborated by a gentleman arriving at the general’s house on the same day with a briefcase full of money and the request that he deliver a speech at an upcoming regimental reunion denouncing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. General Dillenbeck takes the money, but it is part of a set up to draw out those behind the Committee of Five devised by two government agents. At the planned event, with our trio’s help, General Dillenbeck reveals the identity of those behind this clandestine group. Why is this a big deal? Because they want to overthrow the government and use General Dillenbeck as a dictator, emulating their fascist idols on the rise in Europe. Their plot is foiled, Tarim is caught, and Harold and Valerie decide to leave the country so that they can be together.
The first thing you see in Amsterdam is the claim that much of this actually happened. To bolster this claim, they have the speech General Dillenbeck gives at the end that outs the Committee of Five played next to the real-life person on which he is based, General Smedley Butler, saying the same words. So, I guess that part did actually happen, sort of. . . . General Butler delivers his address newsreel style, whereas the General Dillenbeck oration is done as part of public event. At any rate, it is time for me once more to put on my historian cap for a moment. The film weaves in some real history in order to tell what is a fictionalized version of events. The real aspects are things like the regiment in which Dr. Berendsen and Harold served, the 369th, and Butler’s accusations. The problem is that they were never proved, although plenty of people like to jump on the conspiracy band wagon to say that plenty of industrialists wanted a guy like Hitler in charge. Perhaps, but there was never a cabal. What I find more interesting as a historian and Catholic are the sterilization clinics run by the Committee of Five. If you have never heard of Margaret Sanger, then allow me to fill you in to a limited degree. She was one of the primary inventors of the birth control pill. That might seem innocuous until you factor in the fact that she was also a firm believer in eugenics. Briefly, eugenics was an attempt to scientifically prove the superiority of certain races, with the white one at the top. One of Sanger’s programs was a forced sterilization program among the African American community, believing it “humane” to eventually breed them out of existence. She received commendations from the Nazi party for her work, by the way. Think about the next time you take a contraceptive. The rest of the history is pretty boring, and I almost fell asleep.
Unfortunately, I did not find Amsterdam too interesting. My Catholic interest was momentarily piqued during the scenes in the sterilization clinics. What was more lasting are the platitudes uttered by Valerie towards the end. She is arguing with Libby and Tom, who are part of the Committee of Five. She has a lot to say about love, which is great because God is love. However, my favorite line is when she talks about living your truth. Catholicism is truth, the truth, and it is something I do my best to live. I always try to soften the blow of such statements because I do not want to come off as an iconoclast if you are not a Catholic. Still, God never said to only do part of the Faith and not the rest. One of the things that I appreciate about Catholicism is that there is a lot of room in it to find your truth. It is not a one-size must fit all approach to worshipping God. People complain about the Church forcing female and male religious to remain celibate, but will not allow that maybe that is what that person is called to do. Or you can raise a family. Or you can do like me a discern a consecrated single life. Within those areas, there is a lot of room for you to make your Faith your own. The main thing is to have a relationship with God, and that is the whole truth. Ultimately, that is what this film is about, the relationship between three people. That can be a reasonable facsimile of what God holds in store for us, but it is not everything. The sad thing is that it is interminable.
I was not kidding when I said I almost fell asleep while watching Amsterdam. It was getting to the climactic moment, too, and I was fighting to keep my eyes open. I will blame it on the busy day I had of running, errands, and going to Rekindle at the House of Prayer. It all led to me seeing a late showing, much later than I prefer. Anyway, you can read this review and get everything you need to know about the movie from it. It is very average.