2010-01-25 14:52

What it's about:

The life and loves of pilot Amelia Earheart (played by Hilary Swank), once the most famous woman in the world, who disappeared over the Pacific in 1937 along with her navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) while attempting to become the first person to fly around the globe.

What we thought:

The Amelia Earheart story is that great American fairytale of what a grand dream, limitless fortitude and good fortune can achieve. And in Earheart, whose greatest exploits (a solo flight across the Atlantic and Pacific, a pioneer of female aviation) gave the nation hope, or at least a distraction, during the worst of the Depression, we have the perfect subject for a probing biographical film. Even if that's not what we get.

Swank is the perfect fit for this iconic role. Lanky and boyish, with her crop of copper hair and child-like thirst for adventure, she bears a striking resemblance to the real Amelia we see in archival footage shown towards the end of the film. What motivated the aviator pioneer though remains a mystery throughout the film. Amelia makes the great mistake of having its heroine tell us how much she loves to fly, without showing us the whys, the hows and wherefores. The scripts seems unwilling to get under Earheart's skin and we get a very basic, thinly outlined account of her early years as a Kansas farm girl who dreamt of flight, before she is catapulted to world stardom without any sense of how she got there.

The film also explores Earheart's enduring relationship with publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), whom she eventually married, as well as her affair with pilot and entrepreneur Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). Like her adventures in the sky, these aspects of her life are treated like soap opera clichés and her fling with Vidal is both lustless and listless. Swank doesn't get the opportunity to explore the depths of this fascinating character because the stimulus just isn't there.

There are some fine supporting performances, from Cherry Jones as Eleanor Roosevelt, who enjoys a night flight out of Washington courtesy of Earheart, and most notably a commanding Christopher Eccleston as Fred Noonan, who also vanished on that fateful flight. The writers take some questionable editorial choices in depicting the factors which led to Earheart's demise, and Noonan, who was an accomplished navigator and pilot in his own right, gets much of the blame. It's a needless attempt at solving one of the most enduring mysteries of the modern era.

Ultimately, director Mira Nair seems content to get the look of the film right – and boy, does she. The gorgeous panoramic views of the African plains, vast blue oceans, endless valleys and desert landscapes as viewed from the pilot's cockpit are stunning, and would entice anyone to take up flying. The costumes and set design evoke the period in beautiful detail, and everyone looks the part.

Amelia is simply a surface reading of an icon and can only be viewed as a missed opportunity to tell this intriguing story in a manner that it deserves. As a biopic, Amelia doesn't ever really take off.

Who was Amelia Earheart, really? And what motivated her to become a pioneer of the skies? This film won't give you the answers.

Puffing Billy 2010/01/26 3:09 PM
How to condense a whole life into a 2-hour film? Leave lots out.... really subject for a decent mini-series, but not a huge production. There's no mention of the fact that she was a fair to middling - and, until the end, extremely lucky - pilot though. Glossed over in the film?
James 2010/01/27 10:17 AM
Fair and middling is the same thing? I started watching this over the weekend and it was pretty blah. Hillary Swank is a very good actress, but she's zero fun. It's like work having to watch her.
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