The historical comedy-drama film “Amsterdam” perhaps had it all to be a brilliant piece of work—a star-studded line-up of actors, a real-life political conspiracy plot, and period-specific grandeur—but the film unfortunately never really comes to life as it should have. The plot meanders and goes in directions perhaps not quite required as two friends, Burt and Harold, try to solve a murder mystery after they are wrongly accused of the same. The characters, and in a sense, the actors too, feel imbalanced, and by the end, “Amsterdam” leaves the audience with very little to cherish or remember.
‘Amsterdam’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
In the changing times of 1933, Burt Berendsen works as a doctor treating war veterans in his own clinic in New York. Burt is passionately invested in improving the lives of veterans who bear physical marks from the war, as he himself had served in WWI and had been gravely injured in it. Due to these injuries, he has to constantly wear a back brace and a stone eye, as he lost one of his eyes in service too. His best friend is a lawyer named Harold Woodman, who served in the same troop as Burt in the war, and the two have been inseparable ever since. One day Harold calls upon Burt in his office to meet with a potential client, a young woman named Elizabeth Meekins, who believes that her father’s recent death has something suspicious about it. This father, Bill Meekins, was very well known to Burt and Harold since the man had been the commander of their regiment during the war and was almost like a guiding figure to them. Burt was also in the habit of organizing veterans’ reunion gatherings, and for the upcoming version of one, he had also invited Bill Meekins as the chief guest and speaker. Bill had turned senator after the war and had recently been touring Europe, at the end of which came his sudden death, and although most people in his family claim that he died of natural causes, Elizabeth appoints Burt and Harold to look into it. Burt performs an autopsy on the body with the help of a nurse by the name of Irma St. Clair and finds that Bill Meekins has indeed been murdered by poison. He and Burt return to Elizabeth to tell her of this, but the woman now tries to avoid them, saying that she wants them to discontinue the investigation. Soon enough, though, Elizabeth is pushed under a speeding car by someone on the road and is killed in the accident in front of many witnesses. In this chaos, the people around suspect Burt and Harold of having committed the crime and try to hold them till the police arrive, but the two friends manage to somehow escape. From having been the investigators of the senator’s murder, the two men are suddenly turned into suspects for the murder of his daughter.
Who Had Asked Elizabeth To Appoint Burt And Harold? What Had Happened To The Duo During The War?
After avoiding the police on the streets and then two detectives who reach Burt’s house to question him, the two friends come to the conclusion that someone must have told Elizabeth about them and wonder who this person might be. They take help from Burt’s snob high-society wife Beatrice in this aspect and learn of a high-society textile industrialist called Tom Voze, who would surely be able to help them. Upon going to the Voze house to meet him, they are greeted by a helpful young man who offers to help the two friends find out who is after Elizabeth. But Tom informs them that despite being an important man in society, he stays away from all clubs and conventions where most political and ideological discussions are held and instead enjoys birdwatching as a hobby. He does give them the name of a different man, though, one who would surely be able to help—General Gil Dillenbeck, who was also a war veteran who turned into a political figure after the war, and the man had also been a good friend of Bill Meekins. Tom suggests that Dillenbeck would be able to tell Burt and Harold more about Bill Meekins, particularly about who was traveling with the man in Europe at the time of his poisoning. While meeting Tom Voze works greatly for the protagonists, they receive another special surprise at his house too. Before even meeting with Tom, they come across his wife, Libby, and, more importantly, his sister, Valerie. Valerie happens to be an old acquaintance and very good friend of the two men, and as they sit down to catch up, she reveals that it was she who had told Elizabeth to contact them. Elizabeth had been a friend of Valerie, and when she was distressed about her father’s death, Valerie had suggested that she appoint the doctor-lawyer duo to investigate.
The extent of Valerie Voze’s friendship with the two men is presented in detail in the long flashback section when events from during the war are shown. Burt had gone to serve in the war only because his rich, high-society parents-in-law wanted him to do so, as he was already married to Beatrice Vandenheuvel at the time. But Burt was not a character cut out for war, and more than anything else, he cherished his friendship with Harold Woodman. Harold, who had faced severe racism throughout his life in America, had now found equality while serving in the army under Major Bill Meekins, and he, too, enjoyed his bond with Burt. Both of them were severely injured in action while serving in France and had to be rushed to a hospital, where a nurse by the name of Valerie treated them with utmost care. While the men initially knew Valerie to be French, for she only spoke that language, she turned out to be an English-speaking American later on. Gradually, the three became very well acquainted with each other and then became extremely close friends. Valerie and Harold also became lovers, and soon after, the three moved to Amsterdam, where they spent the next few months together. This time that they spent here became like a magical memory to them, as there was no worry or concern that they had to think of, and they spent days singing nonsense songs and dancing around with unbridled joy. However, this intense camaraderie came to an end when Burt decided to return to New York, saying that he wanted to rekindle his love and relationship with his estranged wife, Beatrice. Despite the fact that the three friends had decided and promised never to leave each other or end their dreamy life in Amsterdam, the trio is indeed broken up now.
Burt’s return in 1919 to New York and the posh Park Avenue neighborhood was not as heroic as he had thought, for his father-in-law blacklisted him from practicing medicine because Burt was treating veterans irrespective of their race or religion. The man moved his practice to a shady alley but continued to treat veterans and also experiment with morphine and other combinations of medicines that he himself made. This habit of brewing cocktails with medicines, taking them himself, and then passing out in the middle of the day remained a habit of Burt even at present and is kept as part of the comic craft of the film, along with Burt’s often-falling-out false eye. Back in 1919, though, the doctor was arrested for taking illicit drugs and had to write to his friends in Amsterdam for help. While Valerie had earlier revealed that she hailed from a rich and influential family, she was skeptical about contacting this family because her ideologies and beliefs did not match theirs. Ultimately, though, she did contact her family in New York and got Burt out of prison, but she herself had to go away from Amsterdam. Left all alone, Harold had returned to New York too and had pursued education and a profession in law. While he had met up with Burt and the two remained friends, they had no knowledge of where Valerie was until they finally met her at the Voze house. At this time, in 1933, Valerie explains that she suffers from a hereditary nervous disorder, for which she always stays inside her room in the house, barely stepping out, and is cared for by her loving brother Tom and his obnoxious wife, Libby.
Who Was The Committee Of The Five? Did Such An Organization Really Exist In History?
Following the reunification of the trio at the Voze house, Burt goes off in search of an opportunity to meet General Gil Dillenbeck, and he has a moment of romance with Irma St. Clair at his office as well. Meanwhile, Harold and Valerie spot the man who had killed Elizabeth on the streets and decide to follow him through the city. Doing this, they are finally led to a sterilization clinic, which seemed to forcefully operate on people in order to strengthen white supremacy. This clinic was being run by a secretive organization with a logo bearing a resemblance to the Nazi swastika, and the three friends now meet with old acquaintances to find out more about this organization. During their time in Amsterdam, Burt, Harold, and Valerie met with two men who were working as spy agents, and now they meet them once again in New York. It is these men, who are aware of every new development in the political scene of Europe, that tell them of the organization called the Committee of the Five. This secretive group was run by five rich and influential businessmen, whose identities were not known, in America who were working with associations of the Nazi Party in Germany to run these clinics and were also plotting a political scheme. The three friends then meet with Dillenbeck as well, and the general informs them that this Committee of the Five was also constantly trying to reach him to make him the face of their political plan. These businessmen wanted to overthrow the current president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and establish a dictatorship just like in Germany and Italy, as this would greatly profit their trade. As was also proposed earlier by Tom Voze, Burt and Harold now ask Dillenbeck to appear at their own veterans’ reunion and give a speech there while accepting to work with the Committee of the Five. While Dillenbeck would not actually give the speech that the committee wants him to give, this occasion would definitely draw out the five businessmen running the organization, and their identities would be revealed.
This political plot is indeed taken from an alleged political conspiracy called the Business Plot, in which there was possibly a gradual attempt towards overthrowing President Roosevelt and placing a dictator in his place. The council of businessmen supporting this plan apparently wanted to make retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler the face of their organization, although the name “Committee of the Five” seems to be made up by director David O. Russell and did not exist in reality. Major Butler confirmed that the organization reached out to him multiple times, asking him to be their mouthpiece, rally all war veterans against the current government, and then establish a fascist regime with Major Butler as the dictator, akin to Hitler and Mussolini. Although certain evidence of such a political conspiracy seems to have been found, plenty of debate also exists about how it was nothing but a hoax and a far-fetched theory. Ultimately, such a plan was never officially proven, although many still firmly believe that the Business Plot had indeed been in the works in 1933, right before the Second World War. Undoubtedly, the turn of the USA into a dictatorship would have changed the history of the world completely, and this is what the alleged businessmen supposedly wanted. The film, at its very end, also presents an actual clip of Major General Smedley Butler talking on the matter.
Back at Burt and Harold’s veterans’ reunion gathering, three of the businessmen of the Committee of the Five make a direct appearance, and they approach General Dillenbeck to be the fourth and most important member of their organization. They promised that he would be made president, a dictator, once all the veterans had rallied and the coup was successful. While Dillenbeck stalls this offer, the fifth and most influential member of the committee is not revealed until later on when an attempt is made on Dillenbeck’s life during his speech on the stage. As the man had exposed the Committee of the Five in his speech, instead of saying what the fascist organization wanted him to say, the assassin who had killed Elizabeth Meekins tried to shoot him dead. This situation is averted by Harold and Valerie, and the assassin proudly shouts out the names of Tom and Libby Voze before he is captured. As it turns out, Valerie’s brother and sister-in-law were the most influential members of the fascist group, and they were great admirers of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Tom had known that Valerie would try to stop their plan if she got to know too much about it, and it was he who had ensured that his sister became sick and had to remain confined to her room inside their house. As Burt and Harold had approached him for help with solving Meekins’ murder, Tom saw this to be a great opportunity to get close to Dillenbeck and pitch his idea, since all his direct approaches had failed so far. It was also Tom Voze’s organization that had killed Bill Meekins, for the ex-army general had met with Benito Mussolini during his Europe trip and had witnessed an incident in which the Italian dictator had run his car over a child and had not bothered about it. Meekins realized how evil these fascist dictators were and decided to reveal all of this in his speech at Burt’s reunion gathering. This would have thrown off the entire political conspiracy, as the real truth about fascism would be spread to all the veterans attending the event, and for this, Bill Meekins had been killed.
‘Amsterdam’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Burt, Harold, And Valerie At The End?
As the assassin is detained and the identities of the members of the Committee of the Five are revealed, Tom Voze is arrested on charges of conspiracy and attempted assassination. However, he does not stay imprisoned for long and is later released, although the political plan he had hatched is now over. But as a sort of revenge, he and his friends smeared the name of General Dillenbeck, leading to his being court-martialed. Finally, Harold and Valerie decide to return to Amsterdam to live again like they once did in their beautiful past, as they realize that American society is still not ready to accept a Black man and a white, rich, affluent woman as lovers. However, the two spies who had helped the trio now convince the couple not to return to the Netherlands, as it would soon be infiltrated by the Nazi government, and instead, they go over to someplace in Europe, possibly England. Burt decides not to go along, though, and he stays back to serve American veterans and to find his own love and life. He had earlier officially given up on his marriage with Beatrice, and he starts a new life of love and hope with the nurse Irma St. Clair.
Despite all the political twists and murder plots, “Amsterdam” intends to be about human realizations and emotions, and it is in this aspect that it lacks the most. Even the brightest of actors seem unconvincing in this shaky film, which elaborates more than was needed. The three lead characters often whisper the word “Amsterdam” as if to create a magical charm for the whole thing, and this, too, goes amiss, as it seems rather silly at times and fails to work any magic at all.
“Amsterdam” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by David O. Russell.