20th Century Fox
For a film about an inspirational woman – Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and attempt (unsuccessfully and tragically) to circumnavigate the globe – Amelia is rather uninspired. While beautifully mounted and shot, director Mira Nair and writers Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan, have more or less followed the conventions of the old style Hollywood biopic, hitting the historical plot points but failing to get at the heart of the woman at the heart of their story.
That’s no fault of Hilary Swank, who plays Earhart with tomboyish hair and an authentic (I’m assuming) Kansas accent. She also has a ‘can do’ spirit but nowhere near a peppy as the Amelia Earhart rendered by Amy Adams earlier this year in Night at the Museum 2; now that would have made for a much more fun film!
Told in flashback as Earhart attempts her failed circumnavigation of the globe, which ended with her and her navigator disappearing in the final stretch somewhere over the Pacific, we witness how she came to meet and then marry public relations maestro George Puttnam (Richard Gere). Puttnam helped her pursue her flying goals whilst cashing in in the process. Swank and Gere certainly have chemistry which is more than can be said for her teaming with Ewan McGregor . He plays engineer Gene Vidal (father of future writer Gore Vidal) with whom Earhart had an affair although not clandestine as Puttnam, and other acquaintances, were well aware. Sadly, McGregor is given very little screen time (and none in the bedroom, sorry ladies) and not much to do when he does show up.
By all accounts, Earhart was a woman well ahead of her time, not just in her pursuit of flying but also her attitudes to sex and what women could and could not do. But despite using two biographies as its source material, Amelia manages only to scratch the surface of its heroine. Swank, who also acts as executive producer, must have found much to admire in the character of Earhart, as well as to submerge herself in. And not to be (too) cynical, I’m sure she saw this as an opportunity to score herself another Oscar nod (she’s two for two so far). While it’s a good performance, I’d wager she won’t be booking a flight to the Kodak theatre for late Feb 2010.
In its favour, Amelia does have some wonderful aerial cinematography with some of the flight sequences so well done I was hard pressed to decipher between real blue sky and CGI blue screen. But a film needs to be more than pretty pictures and try as it might, Amelia just can’t get airborne. That’s a shame, for the filmmakers and for Earhart herself, whose legacy is deserving of a much richer, more complex telling.