Andy Bockelman: Swank’s charm saves ‘Amelia’ from sputtering
November 26, 2009
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
Length: 111 minutes
Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor.
One of the biggest mysteries of the past 100 years pertains to the disappearance of a certain pilot in a flight around the globe. An even bigger mystery is how the makers of the movie "Amelia" could make the subject matter so frustratingly uninteresting.
The world is meant to be explored.
That's the kind of philosophy that 1920s aviation enthusiast Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) embraces wholeheartedly. For her entire life, she has held a fascination with the freedom of the skies and the science of aeronautics.
When Charles Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight sets a new precedent for pilots everywhere, Amelia seeks out the chance to become the first woman to fly across the ocean. That's when George Putnam (Richard Gere), publisher of Lindbergh's book "We," comes into her life, arranging for her to be a passenger on a flight across the pond.
Her participation in the 1928 event catapults her to national stardom as the poster girl for all female pilots. But Amelia would rather be up in the air than serve as an advertising icon, leading her to pursue a quest to push the boundaries of flying forever.
Swank is sincere and appealing in her depiction of one of the most celebrated women of all time. We see the strengths and weaknesses of the sandy-haired, freckle-faced aviatrix with ease.
Gere does his best as her financial backer and eventual husband Putnam, who can't help but worry for her safety while she's breaking records in the air and becoming an American sensation as a result.
Ewan McGregor is oddly shoehorned into the story as Gene Vidal, a former Olympic athlete and West Point aeronautics instructor with whom Amelia feels a kinship.
His inclusion is marginally important at best, as are appearances by Gene's son, writer Gore Vidal (William Cuddy) as a child, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones).
It's frustrating that a woman as remarkable as Earhart could come off as so ordinary.
The aviation pioneer's story is given an all too typical biopic treatment by director Mira Nair and screenwriters Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan. There's a fine integration of archive film footage into the action, yet the rest of the content remains uninspired, albeit nicely filmed in South African and Canadian locations.
With source materials such as biographies "East to the Dawn," "The Sound of the Wings" and "Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved," there are plenty of angles from which to view Earhart and her legacy, but the problem is that there is virtually no conflict.
The titular heroine's battle to be taken seriously in a man's world is almost nonexistent here, and her love life is presented as nothing more than an afterthought. It works occasionally as a pro-feminine piece, but it doesn't go much further than Earhart's desire not to be tied down as a wife or otherwise.
The only driving force is the dramatic irony in knowing the fate of Earhart in her final flight, but this climax is reached ever so slowly before finally fading out.
Swank carries "Amelia" almost single-handedly, whether it's with her offbeat smile or her superb, poetic voiceovers in describing the magic and wonder of flying.
But these musings have hardly any significance, considering the movie's atmosphere can best be likened to the unceremonious farewell shared by Earhart and Putnam: "See ya."