Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Mira Nair (“The Namesake”)
Written by: Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”)
With as much fascinating insight that director Mira Nair offers into the life of legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the biopic “Amelia,” it would be impossible to fill in a few footnotes much less an entire film on the pilot’s contributions to female aviation. Nair simply fails to make the picture soar. In fact, it hardly gets off the ground.
Based on the biographies “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “Amelia Earhart: the Mystery Solved” by Elgin Long, “Amelia,” adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”) takes the all-too-familiar safe route and, in turn, does a disservice to the story’s precarious nature.
It is 1937 when we meet Amelia, a headstrong pilot who is attempting to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. It’s a journey that would inevitably lead to her mysterious disappearance somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Taking a straight-forward angle to Earhart’s story and tangling it up with flashbacks and ineffective narration, Nair and company mix stock footage, newsreel-type transitions, and murky aerial shots that will elicit a lukewarm response for those who want more heart and adventure from the narrative.
Instead, Nair focuses on Earhart as a celebrity and a wife more than she does a pioneer of her field. The attention paid to her character’s depth might have been useful if “Amelia” was aspiring to become something as epic as Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” but in Nair’s hands the film feels smaller in scale and significance.
We watch Earhart’s involvement with book publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), a relationship that starts off more like a business venture than it does a courting session. From their marriage to Earhart’s love affair with aviation professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), Nair hits all the plot points reasonably well but never enthralls us with drama or, more importantly, wonderment behind Earhart’s flights through the farthest reaches of the world.
Even when Nair does get Amelia up in the air, Bass and Phelan’s script reduces her adventurer’s spirit in heavy-handed metaphors about the freeing sensation of flying. Swank does Earhart justice – although she more than likely won’t be getting another Oscar nod this year for her portrayal – but her contribution to the picture is an afterthought.
“I fly for the fun of it,” Amelia reminds us during the movie. It’s too bad Nair didn’t follow suit with her filmmaking.