Amelia Earhart took major risks. She flew solo across two oceans and died trying to be the first pilot to fly around the globe. Unfortunately “Amelia” the new film about Earhart’s life, is never able to escape the basic biopic structure. It is ironic that a film about a woman who strained against the boundaries of society never takes any chances of its own.
The safe nature that permeates the entire production is unfortunate, as the pieces are there to make a captivating film. Mira Nair, probably best known for “Monsoon Wedding” has crafted a lovely film. The shots of Amelia flying over Africa are gorgeous and all the period details feel spot-on, but the characters feel sterile and lethargic.
Richard Gere does nice work as George Putnam, Amelia’s husband and chief promoter who came up with ways finance her flying. Gere’s performance captures Putnam’s awe and love for a woman he knows he can never completely have. It is a shame that Hilary Swank is unable to match him.
Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston
Runtime: 111 min
Swank is perhaps the most baffling actress working today. She’s won two Oscars for electric and emotionally honest performances, and yet her range seems surprisingly limited here. While it’s nice to see Swank deliver such an uncharacteristically smiley performance, it feels hollow. Swank looks the part, but is sadly incapable of capturing the adventurous spirit that Earhart embodied.
Swank is a good physical match for the character, but she never seems to connect with Earhart as a person, and the script’s dialogue isn’t doing her any favors. She has to deliver lines like “flying lets me move in three dimensions.” While lines like that may have looked brilliant and deep on the page, they fall very flat when actually spoken on screen.
The one moment were Swank sparkles is during a nighttime flight when Earhart flies Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones) over Washington D.C. The scenes of these two women who played by their own rules are truly magical. Roosevelt’s joy when Earhart gives her the wheel is the film’s best moment of excitement and wonder.
The other supporting performances are all solid. Ewan McGregor is charismatic, if underused, as Gene Vidal, the other love of Earhart’s life. The movie tiptoes around her affair with Vidal, which limits the audience’s connection to Earhart herself. If we are not allowed to see how Vidal, or George Putnam, for that matter, stirred her passion, how are we supposed to understand her as a character?
Nair does her best work with the depiction of Earhart’s doomed last leg of her attempted flight around the world. She is able to build tension despite the fact that we already know how the story ends. Swank’s work in the final scenes is understated and powerful. Christopher Eccleston ably backs her up as her navigator, Fred Noonan.
“Amelia” simply never takes off. The film isn’t able to break out of its rigid and formulaic structure. While it does an admirable job of depicting Earhart’s accomplishments, it doesn’t show us who she was outside of the cockpit. We get to know Earhart the pilot, but not Amelia.
“Amelia” is in theaters now.