She was a pioneer of aviation, aerial record breaker and the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean (second only to Charles Lindberg). She was a worldwide phenomenon and a role model to girls everywhere. She was “Amelia.”
Director Mira Nair does the unexpected. She has taken the life story of one of the 20th century’s most incredible people – Amelia Earhart – and makes it boring. Sure, there are some tense moments as she sought to conquer the sky and go where no man, or woman, has gone before. The episodes about her flying exploits are edge-of-the-seat tense at times and, though only a small part of the film, exciting. So, what is the problem?
Mira Nair is a good director but “Amelia” does not have the feel of her auteur. The film is flat in its adapting the source material – Susan Butler’s East to the Dawn and Mary S. Lovell’s The Sound of Wings – and is the reason it fails. Scripters Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan give scant attention to Amelia’s incredible accomplishments and give the lion’s share of screen time to the romantic triangle of Earhart (Hilary Swank), her husband, publisher and promoter George Putnam (Richard Gere) and her lover Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) (father of Gore). The problem is, none of these characters gets any depth and the actors, including twice Oscar winner Swank, walk through their roles.
Production values are first-rate with great attention to period details, especially the planes that real life Amelia flew, like her famous Lockheed Electra, the last aircraft she piloted on her historic and fateful attempt to fly around the world. Period costume is slick as is production design but the overall feel of “Amelia” rings too modern. Swank is fake-freckled and bewigged and bears a striking resemblance to Amelia. It is too bad the character was not better written. I give it a C.
Hilary Swank certainly looks the part and, despite what Robin says above, fits the period well, something I didn't think she'd be capable of, but although her Amelia talks about her love of flight, Nair fails to really make us feel it. Swank's Amelia is all about her big teeth and honest freckles and being 'prettier than she looks in pictures.' The modernity comes in with Amelia's apparent attitude towards love and sex - this adaptation has her seducing her book publisher George Putnam, then, later, only agreeing to marry him if it she can walk away if it doesn't 'stick' after a year. In the end, despite her dalliance with Gene Vidal, the relationship is somewhat touching and it is shocking to revisit the series of mishaps that contributed to Earhart and Noonan's (Christopher Eccleston as her navigator) disappearance over the Pacific, but once again, the tragedy fails to fully register. The mournful sound of bagpipes we hear over earlier flight footage is replaced with typical melodramatic scoring and a spiraling look into the waves. Still, the production is a handsome one and Cherry Jones makes her few minutes of time as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pop. C+
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