Amelia – Review

One ā€œL,” Two Oscars and three bad movies in a row

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Director: Mira Nair
Notable Cast:
Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor

Can a biopic tell us about someone’s life without actually giving us any insight into it? Amelia, Mira Nair’s stab at the life and times of America’s most prominent female pilot, gives us a retrospective on Amelia Earhart’s life without giving us any true insight into why she did any of it. And it’s a shame, really, because there’s plenty of material to mine and a terrific performance from Hilary Swank waiting to be found.

Amelia follows the most prominent years of the American flyer (Swank), from her first trip across the Atlantic to her ill-fated voyage to circumnavigate the globe. Told in flashbacks from various points on that fatal flight, recalling the major points of her life, the film intends to try and show why Amelia strived for the freedom that only being above the clouds could provide. It also highlights the two great loves of her life, who would find themselves in very different positions in her life.

Her husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) would be the financing arm of her flying escapades, using public relations and endorsement deals to raise the necessary funds to keep her in the air. They had an open relationship, an extreme rarity for the time period, and in many ways was one of convenience. She wanted to fly and he profited off of it.

Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) would be someone with which she shared a love of flight and was one of the great loves of her life. Complicated by her marriage, and his son Gore, the two were lovers never meant to be together for then a fleeting moment.

Nair, who had one of the better films of the decade in The Namesake, seemingly has everything to work with for another. A first rate cast, an American icon and the ability to use the power of flight as a metaphor are things that don’t come by very often. The problem is that the film seems like a condensed version of Amelia’s life as opposed to a true examination of a complex personality.

As a period piece, the film is like an immersion in the time period. Nothing is out of place and Nair has done a wonderful job of transporting us back into the time frame. There wasn’t a lot of color or wild styles in that time frame but Amelia manages to make it seem vibrant and alive. There are lots of strong variations of color and the set pieces are extraordinary. It doesn’t hurt that the film has some incredible aerial cinematography. Stuart Dryburgh and John Marzano do a wonderful job putting together some fantastic shots as the film looks wonderful. In the air the cinematography is great to watch; there is something about being that high in the air on your own and it gets captured lovingly by the two. Nair only hints at it and it’s a problem because there’s no compelling reason why Earhart finds it so engaging.

In fact, there is no deep reason why Earhart becomes a pilot outside of a couple lines of dialogue and two brief throwaway scenes. For a film that focuses on her life as a flyer there’s nothing that gives us an inclination as to why being in the air, or wanting to accomplish things that were seemingly impossible for a woman of that time period. It’s more of a collection of events in her life without any sort of deeper context. It leaves the film feeling flat and without the sort of emotional depth a film like this should have. When Amelia’s plane crashes, and we see George and Gene both in a state of shock at the loss of a woman they both deeply loved, there’s no emotional connection to it. It just happens and the archival footage following it doesn’t give any closure. Just a conclusion, nothing more and it’s a disservice.

The film’s strength is from Hilary Swank, who uncannily resembles Earhart. She may have a limited range as an actress, as she’s basically a brunette version of Kate Hudson with a higher ceiling, but given the right role in the right film she can turn out a brilliant performance. This is no exception as Amelia is fascinating through her eyes. Amelia was one of the earliest role models for women and Earhart the character gets that fact in the same way Amelia the woman knew it. Everything she does in how she interacts with fans and other female pilots, even non verbal cues, gives an authenticity to her actions. She does little things, like the look on her face when she’s flying over Africa, which gives us a window into her psyche. The script and film doesn’t give us the follow up to explain why, but for a brief moment we can see why she wanted to fly so badly. It’s subtle but powerful, hard to miss but perhaps unintentional by an actress not known for it.

Amelia is at its heart a deeply flawed film with a top notch performance from Hilary Swank.


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