October 24, 2009
Review - " Ameilia " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Mira Nair
Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
“Amelia” dutifully conveys the salient biographical info with a trusty
cinematic device: As Earhart and Noonan embark on their doomed
flight, flashbacks catch the audience up on the events that got her
there. (Christopher Eccleston, as Noonan, is the one understated player
in this endeavor.) Those last 10 minutes or so of radio-communications
loss, concurrent instrument failure, and dawning awareness of disaster
are honestly gripping.
Whatever it was that made Amelia Earhart the darling of the skies back
in the 1930s - her status as a woman flyer, her good looks, those cute
outfits - eludes the makers of Amelia, a murky biography that
hopscotches through the era like one of those sleek silver Electra
planes that Amelia banged around in. That is, it looks good, but it is in
danger of getting lost in the fog. Also, there's a lot of turbulence. Like
Earheart herself "Amelia" runs out of fuel.
Then there is the Richard Gere factor. Gere plays George Putnam, a
publisher and public relations pioneer who helped make Earhart a star
during the Great Depression - the movie's single nod to that bleak age
shows Amelia driving by a soup kitchen and saying "Why have I been
given so much?" - which was, coincidentally, the heyday of stars with
Gere's blandly handsome amiability. Gere's cachet has faded, but the
man himself persists, not a bad actor but a flat one.
His love affair with Earhart (Hilary Swank, who looks very much like the real thing) is at the heart of Amelia, but it comes
across like a second-hand romance. The movie lacks the down-and-dirty excitement of the age, and Gere and Swank mesh
only in their eccentric smiles - his crooked grin and her toothy one - and their on-again, off-again attempts at patrician
accents. They sound like the second-place finishers in a contest to impersonate FDR.
Swank strains to be what Amelia demands, the spunky pioneer who sets off to make history and won't let love - either the
married kind or the extra-marital variety - stand in the way. Unfortunately, the script flounders through the events of her life
story, stopping off at a few celebrity encounters or flatly told episodes of derring-do and throwing in exchanges that are
meant to set us up for the alleged drama to follow: ("I'm going to fly around the world, George," Earhart says. "It can't be
done," he replies.)
The subject of this exposition is a boyishly handsome tomboy whose early years are covered in one scene - Amelia as a
schoolgirl, watching a plane fly over a Kansas field - before we're plunged into her famous around-the-world flight. That trip,
with navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Ecclestone), forms the backbone of the movie: scenes from various exotic locales
alternate with a chronological history that sputters through a few key incidents. Amelia meets George, and the next thing you
know they're lovers. She flies across the Atlantic, but only as a passenger, which was apparently enough to make her
famous. She is used, in an early marketing coup, to advertise everything from cigarettes to her own line of luggage.
She meets Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), who is introduced at a black-tie party where he turns to face the camera, slowly
revealing a seductive smile practically gleaming the words "Future lover."
In the end, we never really
learn what "Amelia" means:
idealist or commercial sellout,
talented flyer or novelty act.
Her great love is undercut by
her lesser love - the attraction
between Vidal and Earhart is
never persuasive - and her
aviation feats seem beside
the point. Amelia Earhart has
become a famous mystery,
one that Amelia does not
solve. Given that I am a fan of
Hilary Swank I should have
enjoyed "Amelia" more than
I did. It was entertaining but
felt too much like 'Oscar bait'
rather than a truly good movie. The film fails to capture the mystique and mystery that is the legend of Amelia Earhart. Still, if
you choose to go see "Amelia", you'll likely have a good time.