'Amsterdam' is a Caper Worth Watching—But It Will Also Test Your Patience

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A man with an eye patch leans forward next to a white woman smoking a pipe and a Black man with a bandage on his face. All three of them are laughing.
The friendship of Burt (Christian Bale), Valerie (Margot Robbie) and Harold (John David Washington) is the beating heart of 'Amsterdam'—and the only thing that holds it together.

The quickest way to sum up Amsterdam — a very not-quick movie at 134 minutes long — is to reference all of the very familiar elements it decided to mash together willy-nilly.

These are as follows:

  1. The unnecessarily convoluted plot of an unnecessarily convoluted film noir
  2. Cartoonish conspiratorial vibes, reminiscent of the Coen Brothers
  3. The flawed characters and angular camera shots that are a hallmark of Wes Anderson
  4. The fast pace of a modern caper (like The Brothers Bloom, say)
  5. The appearance of Another Beloved Famous Actor at every twist and turn that, one gets the feeling, is supposed to make the audience gasp or clap or something

It's ... a lot.

Without giving too much away, the arc of Amsterdam goes a little something like this. Burt (Christian Bale) and Harold (John David Washington) are injured while fighting in World War I. When they go to the hospital, a kooky, pipe-smoking nurse named Valerie (Margot Robbie) tends to them. The three become fast friends, spend a glorious time together in Amsterdam after the war, then (ill-advisedly) go their separate ways.

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Fifteen years later, Burt and Harold are dragged into a mystery by Liz (Taylor Swift), the daughter of one of their wartime superior officers. That former officer has died suddenly, and Liz is sure it wasn't of natural causes. As Burt and Harold unravel the truth, they reconnect with Valerie again. The plot they uncover together is a little known incident that really did happen on American soil in the early 1930s. I would tell you all about it, but that would spoil the entire movie. (Feel free to Google "The Business Plot" if you have no intention of watching this.)

As previously mentioned, Amsterdam does a lot of things. Some of those things are great — like the sets, costumes, dry comedic timing and fun side characters. (Chris Rock, Mike Myers and Michael Shannon are especially good in their small roles, and Taylor Swift is at the center of one of the most glorious scenes of the entire movie.) But some of those things are exhausting—one or two fewer steps in the unraveling of the central mystery would have certainly made for a more comfortable run time.

There is also something inherently discomfiting about the way the movie's farcical tone rubs up against the big reveal at the end. (There is a reason film noir keeps things, well, noir.) Amsterdam spends so long getting to the point that by the time it gets there, the audience is denied sufficient time to digest it, or the fact that this dastardly thing actually happened.

The thing that ultimately gets you through the meandering plot and uneven tone, however, is the friendship at the center of the story. Yes, the way that Burt, Harold and Valerie come together is an improbable flight of fancy (and the way they reconnect later in the film makes even less sense) but the chemistry between the actors is undeniably fun to watch.

When the movie focuses on the central trio, and articulates the alchemy that occurs when friendships form, it is a delight. Amsterdam does this particularly well during Harold and Valerie's first meeting, and in a voiceover moment right at the end of the film. That heart at the center of the story holds Amsterdam together even as it beats along too many other paths.