In 1933 New York, two best friends (and veterans from World War I), find out that their beloved general from their battalion has died of mysterious circumstances on his way back from Europe. The general’s daughter (Taylor Swift, who–let’s say–quickly disappears before you can tire of her) requests the men’s help to figure out what happened. Glass-eyed, wild-haired Bert (Christian Bale) is now a doctor focusing on neglected veterans and pain cures, and straight-man Harold (John David Washington) kept his vow to fight injustice by becoming one of the few Black attorneys in town. But they didn’t know that getting involved in the general’s death would put a target on them as well. Before you know it, the men themselves are framed for yet another murder.
Flash back to how Bert and Harold met in 1918 at the end of the war: Both wounded and recovering in a military hospital in Europe, they become the best of friends with a quirky nurse named Valerie (Margot Robbie). At the end of the war, the trio move to Amsterdam together and live a sort of perfect bohemian life, stalling the inevitable reality of going home. Harold falls for the wildly creative and cryptically mysterious Valerie, and Bert basically falls for the both of them as the loyal chosen family he’s always wanted. But their world in Amsterdam can’t last forever–the trio break up, vowing loyalty, but go their separate ways.
If you are at all worried that Margot Robbie disappears from the film, oh don’t you worry. Flash forward to the 1930s, and while doing their investigations Bert and Harold cross paths with the mysterious Valerie again. They are as surprised as she is. But the reformed trio is probably more surprised at what they uncover during their murder-sleuthing. As information and conspiracies start to unfurl through a cavalcade of characters, it quickly becomes apparently that these murders are leading to something much bigger and scarier.
If it seems that a quirky period murder mystery just came out seconds ago, that’s because it did. What I thought didn’t work in the Agatha-Christie inspired quirk-fest See How They Run is exactly what Amsterdam, in my opinion, does right. Yes, there is also an overwhelming ensemble cast, but even the smallest characters manage to make an impression. Mike Myers earns cackles as a strange ornithologist (actually British agent), Chris Rock (yes, doing “Chris Rock as a WWI veteran”) gets some zingers, and the ubiquitous Anya Taylor-Joy as a socialite with a celebrity crush proves her comic chops. But the standout for me in the supporting cast was Rami Malek as a smooth, dreamy, and weird heir to some big American money. With his groomed moustache and soft cashmere sweaters, Malek has an earnest and buttery way of delivering his lines that made me laugh every time.
Like so many movies these days, Amsterdam could certainly use a good trim and an edit. The story could be tightened up–it meanders and drags in the middle–and it could easily lose half an hour from its over two-hour runtime. Sometimes the political narrative (the murders take place in 1933) are a tad heavy-handed with the not-very-subtle parallels to modern politics. But the fact (or at least kind-of-squishy fact) that this is based mostly on real events is, indeed, harrowing when looked through the lens of history. Just turn on the news, and you could totally imagine such a convoluted plot unfolding in our country today. And THAT is incredibly disturbing.