If only Amelia
was as engaging to watch as it is beautiful to look at. The set design and cinematography are exquisite, but the film's piecemeal plot doesn't get you involved or invested in the life of groundbreaking aviatrix Amelia Earhart until its last 20 minutes. And by then, it's way too late. Instead of soaring alongside Amelia, we're left grounded by a script that spends too much time on her love life and not enough time on what made her such an extraordinary woman.
That said, the reason to see Amelia
is Hilary Swank's
performance. Two-time Oscar-winner Swank is captivating as the tough yet vulnerable woman who wanted to call her own shots at a time when women were thought of as second class citizens. Swank's performance is pitch perfect; it's just too bad the material let her down.
We first meet Amelia Earhart when she's being offered the opportunity to act as commander and first woman passenger of a transatlantic flight, all due to the fact she has the right look - a requirement of the flight's financier. And after fits and starts, Amelia, pilot Bill Lutz (Joe Anderson
) and Slim Gordon (Aaron Abrams) leave Newfoundland and 20 hours later land in Wales. Although she didn't pilot the plane (she had her license, but never took the controls), Amelia's catapulted to fame upon her return to the States. Guided by book publisher/publicist George Putnam (Richard Gere
), Amelia uses her newfound celebrity to endorse products, take part in a lecture series, and make public appearances in order to fund her flying.
Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart and Ewan McGregor as Gene Vidal.© Fox Searchlight
On the personal front, George repeatedly asks her to marry him and she finally gives in, although she's determined to set her own course. Amelia remains a feisty, independent thinker and her marriage to George suffers as he keeps pushing her into promotional appearances while she wants only to concentrate on being up in the air setting records and helping to promote women as pilots. An affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor
), an aeronautics instructor she goes into business with, strains the marriage as do the separations forced by Amelia's frequent extended flights.
All this unfolds within flashbacks director Mira Nair uses to tell Amelia's story. We learn about Amelia's personal life as she's up in the air partaking in the fateful flight that will lead to her and her navigator, Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston), being lost to us forever.
The Bottom Line
Going into Amelia
I had only a barebones knowledge of Amelia Earhart the person. I was familiar with her accomplishments, of course, but I had no idea who she was when she wasn't in the air breaking records or breaking through barriers. I still feel, after seeing Amelia
, that I don't know much about her personally, even though that was the film's obvious goal by concentrating on the relationships with her publisher/husband and her lover Gene Vidal. And because I walked away no more educated on Amelia Earhart than when I entered the theater, the film failed to deliver on its promise. Amelia
barely touches the surface of who this extraordinary women was.
Why did she find Gene so irresistible? What was the connection, other than their shared love of flying, that compelled her to become involved with a man outside of her marriage at the risk of ruining her public persona and destroying her potential to make the money she so desperately needed in order to be able to continue to fly? The film skims and glosses over so much of that relationship that ultimately it's an empty side trip. The same can be said for how the film handles the relationship between Earhart and the enthusiastic - and much younger - flyer, Elinor Smith (Mia Wasikowska). The rivalry is set up in one well-written scene, but goes nowhere. Why tease us with bits and pieces of this battle between the two women, if that particular storyline is just all empty calories? Learning more about her love of flying and what she actually went through on her trips would have been much more fulfilling.
Richard Gere and Hilary Swank in 'Amelia.'© Fox Searchlight
Granted, Amelia Earhart's life was much too complex, her achievements so numerous that compiling everything
into a feature film is impossible. Yet what Amelia
does choose to focus on could be the least interesting portions of the aviatrix' colorful life. I wanted more of Amelia Earhart and her groundbreaking exploits across the globe. When Nair and screenwriters Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan focused on her take-offs and landings on foreign soil, that's when the movie soared. Most other times it sat stalled at the gate.
Amelia was directed by Mira Nair and is rated PG for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking.
Theatrical Release: October 23, 2009