© 2009 Ray Wong
Based on biographies and personal letters, Amelia chronicles how the legendary pilot tried to dominate the sky between 1928 and 1937 before she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared somewhere over the Pacific.
Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) is a young aspiring pilot needing a way to financially support her passion in flying. Being one of the few female pilots in the world, she has a lot to prove to the male-dominated profession. She is working with publishing magnate George Putnam (Richard Gere) to promote her career -- she wants to become the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic and Putnam believes her story would sell a lot of books. Her success--being the first person since Lindbergh and the first female to achieve the impossible task--makes her an overnight sensation. She and Putnam also fall in love.
But Amelia's heart is not in domestic affairs or even becoming famous. Fame and fortune are only means to an end: to allow her to continue to fly. Putnam, of course, is determined to make Amelia as famous and rich as possible, being the businessman that he is. He wants to marry Amelia, but she wants to be free. Eventually, he convinces her that she can do whatever she desires as long as he gets to be with her in return.
Amelia continues to conquer the sky, including making headlines by flying solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific. Some people call her reckless, however. Her adventurous spirit also keeps her away from Putnam. Eventually, Amelia carries on an open affair with Eugene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), who later becomes the director of Bureau of Air Commerce (who is also famous for being Gore Vidal's father). Amelia is now stuck between two men she loves, and the sky she loves even more.
Hilary Swank (P.S. I Love You) is the perfect choice to play the headstrong pilot. The boyish actress gives a wonderfully nuanced performance that conveys Amelia's passion and conflicts: she loves what she does, but she's tired and wary of all the trappings that go with it. Swank portrays the famous woman as a human being first, one who is flawed and vulnerable, but tries to stay true to her heart.
Richard Gere (Nights in Rodanthe) is dashing as George Putnam, one of the wealthiest, most visible men of this time because of his business as well as his relationship with Amelia Earhart. Gere's portrayal of Putnam is at times static and passive, although he conveys his love for his lady exquisitely. However, Gere stands out by looking and acting too contemporary for the time period. In contrast, Ewan McGregor (The Men Who Stare At Goats) exudes the right charm and mannerisms for the time period. Gene Vidal is supposed to be the love of Amelia's life (and they both share a passion for aviation), and through McGregor's deft performance, we can see why.
Christopher Eccleston (G.I. Joe) is affecting as the doomed navigator accompanying Earhart on her final flight. Joe Anderson (Across the Universe) is solid as a pilot who is won over by Amelia's determination. Cherry Jones (Ocean's Twelve) is effervescent as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Written by Ronald Bass (Snow Falling on Cedars) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (Girl, Interrupted), the story follows Amelia's life, from the time she met Putnam to the time of her disappearance, by consulting various biographies as wells Earhart's journals and personal letters. In fact, they've included some of these letters and notes in the screenplay. As a biopic, the script is old-fashioned, straightforward and even-handed. In fact, according to today's standards, the story lacks significant conflicts or suspense, especially since we already know what happened to Earhart. Many scenes feel more like a slice of life retelling of Earhart's life than drama. The lack of real conflicts and drama dampens the story and character development. Earhart comes across as a driven woman who is perhaps reckless and selfish. Probably spoiled. Her relationship with Putnam feels cold and her affair with Vidal feels disjointed and unsatisfying.
The dialogue serves the story well; but again, it lacks drama. Even the love triangle is handled with too much caution and subtlety. The exception would be the final reel which details Earhart's final moments based on correspondence and military records. Even though we know the final outcome, the events that lead to it are rather riveting. That is a stark contrast to the rest of the film, which feels tepid and slow.
Under Mira Nair's (The Namesake) direction, the product is handsome and lush with details. The sets, locations, costumes are all well done. They've created scenes based on news reels and historical footage. The aerial shots are gorgeous. The music, however, seems too generically "sweeping." The editing could use some work, however; there are key scenes in which the editing is so jumpy and disjointed that it's hard to discern what is going on.
Amelia is a beautifully produced and well-acted movie about one of the most beloved aviators of all times. As a biopic, however, it lacks drama and energy (which is odd considering it is about flying and adventures), and thus the stakes feel superficial and weak. Amelia would have been disappointed if she were still alive today.
Stars: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Cherry Jones
Director: Mira Nair
Writers: Ronald Bass, Anna Hamilton Phelan (based on books by Susan Butler, Mary S. Lovell)
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
MPAA Rating: PG for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 6
Production – 8
Total – 6.7 out of 10