Dual Movie Reviews – Amsterdam: Captivating or Crowded?


Photo of Amsterdam, 2011. Courtesy of Faungg’s photos.

Elena De Schutter and Megan Breslin


David O. Russel’s star-loaded thriller Amsterdam is a whirlwind of action, comedy, and mystery. The film follows three longtime friends who get entangled in a murder plot following the end of WWI. The film is loaded with big names; Margot Robbie, Christian Bale, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor Joy, Robert De Niro, Rami Malik, and the list goes on. The talent and cinematography of the movie were undoubtedly breathtaking. 

The film begins with a thorough introduction to our main character Burt Berendsen, played by Christian Bale, an army veteran turned doctor. He is accompanied by his friend Harold, another army veteran who becomes a lawyer in 1930s New York. The two friends find themselves accused of a murder they did not commit, and the film stops abruptly with a freeze frame and a voice-over reminiscent of Kuzco’s legendary introduction in  the Emperor’s New Groove: “Yup that’s me, you may be wondering how I ended up in this situation.” Subsequently, there’s a 20-minute flashback further introducing the audience to the friendship between Burt and Harold and introducing a new character, Valerie Voze, played by Margot Robbie. The actors portray the characters beautifully and each backstory is relatable and layered. Viewers can tell that the main characters genuinely enjoy each other’s friendship and bond through their shared trauma from the war. As each new character is introduced, it is evident they have been thoroughly thought out and carefully crafted. 

Amsterdam is a period piece, a format of movie that has risen in popularity in recent years. The costume designer Albert Wolsky definitely understood the assignment. From 30’s hair up in big curls to pearls and plaid suits, the movie has it all. When watching the film, one may truly feel like they are back in the 30s. The artistic aspects of the movie are exceptional. Despite the artistic skill demonstrated in the film’s production, the plot was confusing and unengaging .

 Despite the layered characters and beautiful pictures, the plot quickly began to lose steam as the three war veterans tried to solve the murder case. The entire movie builds up to a predictable outcome, meaning that the audience isn’t captivated by the murder mystery. The scenes are long and hard to understand when new details and characters– seemingly of high importance, are only mentioned once or twice and not picked up later on.  Jordan Hoffman, a critic for AV Club, describes the movie perfectly as “A shamble, like a sloppy bar guy telling a farfetched tale signifying not-too-much, but it certainly seems important, to the teller anyway.” At the beginning of the movie, Amsterdam seems to have a very high stakes-big plot but as the movie goes on the story becomes disordered.

The plot of Amsterdam is messy, yet predictable. The whole time you are waiting for something to happen and when it finally does, it is disappointing as it lacks suspense. Nonetheless, the sheer beauty and artistry in this movie is undeniable. The high talent and big names definitely outshine the story and make it interesting to watch. The characters are well-written and performed along with the cinematography is wondrous, however, the plot unravels in a foreseeable way.


Despite being advertised as a murder mystery, the question of “Who did it?” is not a very pressing matter throughout David O’ Russel’s recent movie, Amsterdam. The film follows a trio of friends dealing with a murder investigation and false accusation during the 1930s, with a series of flashbacks showing how the friends met in the midst of World War One. However, instead of providing a thrilling riddle, the movie serves more as a fun yet low-stakes period piece. Though the movie has many redeeming qualities, the lackadaisical attempts at suspense and uninteresting plot make it difficult to rate highly. 

The plot suffers due to the time skip format and simultaneously fails to excite the viewer. The jumps from the past to the present cause a sense of detachment and reduce interest. In addition to this, the threats that the characters face fail to actually impact the story. Because the characters are not afraid of the danger they are supposedly in, it is easy to lose interest, and subsequently, lose track of the information given to advance the plot. 

The different characters are a definite strong point of the movie. The distinct interpersonal relationships between the characters give each scene a unique feel which prevents the movie from getting boring even with the failure of the plot. The cast is also an amazing addition to the movie. The stellar acting of the leads and many of the side characters help to sell the environment. The introductions of the characters, however, are often haphazard. Information and context are provided through frequently awkward exposition either in the dialogue or narration. Despite not being enough to make the plot enthralling, the characters are easily likable and are still sympathetic enough to be invested in. 

The narration is another interesting aspect of the film. The main character speaks throughout the film to provide context or transitions. He appears to have some level of omniscience, though the reason for his speaking and the origin of his knowledge is never explained. For the stretches of the movie taking place in the past, the pacing and editing of the scenes work in the movie’s favor. The style of narration, in tandem with the non-linear timeline of the movie, creates a nostalgic feel for certain scenes. The montages are well-shot, and the character’s narration is less jarring in this context. 

The end of the movie, unfortunately, fails to rectify the failings of the plot. In a good mystery movie, the final conclusion will provide the previous portion of the movie with context and a through-line to make scenes even better in hindsight. In Amsterdam, the conclusion makes the earlier scenes retroactively worse. The audience is spoon-fed the same details that they had already easily guessed at, effectively making the scenes that first revealed the information feel redundant. The actions that the characters take towards the end of the movie also leave many characters lacking credible motivations. In addition to this, the information is delivered in a painfully dull way, with the main characters delivering minutes-long spiels for no discernable reason. The characters assert in their exposition a number of disconnected messages and themes which are not concretely supported by the rest of the film prior. 

Overall, the movie is fun to watch, but it is intriguing rather than engaging, which is a strike against a movie advertised as a mystery. The movie is well filmed and produced nicely, but it fails to deliver on key aspects such as a suspenseful plot, and effective pacing, which prevents it from being great.