Directed by David O. Russell, ‘Amsterdam’ is a mystery thriller movie set in the 1930s that follows three friends who suddenly find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy to kill a politician. Burt is a doctor who becomes an unwanted witness to the murder of US Senator Bill Meekins, along with his friends, Val and Harold. Soon, they are marked as the prime suspects for the crime, and as they frantically try to prove their innocence, they end up exposing one of the biggest assassination plots in the nation’s history.
Featuring a talented cast with names like Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro, the period movie grips the audience with its riveting narrative peppered with comic elements. Moreover, the realistic characters and detailed portrayal of the 30s make one wonder if the movie has any connection with actual events. If you are curious to know the same, we come bearing answers!
Is Amsterdam a True Story?
Yes, ‘Amsterdam’ is partially based on a true story. David O. Russell directed the movie from an original script he wrote, loosely chronicling the 1933 Business Plot. It was a failed political conspiracy to assassinate then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and overthrow the government to appoint a dictator. As per Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, several wealthy businessmen and bankers were allegedly planning on establishing a fascist veterans group with him as the leader.
Butler claimed that the organization intended to execute a coup on the president due to his decision to eliminate the gold standard in April 1933. The wealthy members of the group reportedly feared this mandate would cause massive currency inflation and make them go bankrupt. In addition, President Roosevelt’s campaign agenda of providing more jobs to unemployed citizens threatened their businesses. Hence, seeing the fascist model in Italy, they plotted to adopt something similar in the US by overthrowing him.
However, this entire conspiracy was exposed when Butler testified under oath in 1934 before the McCormack–Dickstein Committee appointed by the House of Representatives. Eventually, the committee concluded that though there was evidence of talks of forming such a fascist organization, no such plans came to fruition. Interestingly, all those allegedly involved denied involvement; thus, no one was prosecuted. The Business Plot or the White House Putsch is considered one of the most bizarre political scandals in US history and has inspired many news articles, books, and movies like ‘Amsterdam.’
Talking about the film, the director shared in a press conference about his references for the characters, specifically Dr. Burt Berendsen, based on an actual person named Dr. Shields. Russell said, “Me and Christian would look at these big pictures from the period of people partying in huge dance halls, and we’d go, ‘Look at these two people dancing together. I never heard their story. I don’t think anybody recorded their story.’ Which could become these two or these three friends. I never heard their story. Because a lot of history’s not recorded.”
Russell further elaborated on how he created the story by mixing elements of history with his imagining of events. “We took some recorded history that’s explosive and fascinating, but we then invented our own friendship of those who were never really recorded and the people they got to meet along the way. That was the invented friendship of the greatest freedom they ever had and the fun they had together. That made life worth living for all of them. When they faced death, they said, ‘Let’s live,’” added the filmmaker.
Furthermore, actor Christian Bale divulged how his grandmother’s experiences during World War II and her motto of living each day to the fullest inspired the courageousness of the protagonist trio in the movie. The director and all the actors thoroughly researched their real-life counterparts and muses to bring authenticity to their performances. For instance, John David Washington, who essays Harold, delved into African American history during the 30s to visualize life as a black man in those times, as well as the milestones achieved by the community.
On the other hand, Robert De Niro was introduced to Major General Smedley Butler while preparing for his character, General Gil Dillenbeck. Not just that, Russell based Valerie’s character on the works of path-breaking women artists of that era, like Meret Oppenheim, Hannah Hoch, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Thus, it is pretty evident that ‘Amsterdam’ and its characters heavily draw from the political environment in 1930s America, centering the narrative around an incident resembling the Business Plot. Yet, it does have several fictional embellishments to balance out the truthful parts, creating an intriguing concoction.
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