Amelia (2009) – on rental. There were a couple of female heroines from history books that I read about in picture books and admired as a child. One was Helen Keller, another was Florence Nightingale – and the third was Amelia Earhart.
Earhart was an American pilot who lived in the 1930s, and was famed for accomplishing many activities that were not only at the forefront of technology and testing limits of the human endurance, but were also primarily in the domain of men then. She undertook great aviation feats after fellow American Charles Lindbergh, but unlike the latter who got dogged with accusations of Nazism sympathies, Earhart was arguably more charismatic, winning the hearts and imaginations of many women of her generation. After setting many flying records, her life was tragically lost alongside navigator Fred Noonan in 1937 when their plane on a feat to fly around the world went missing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Her remains and the aircraft were never found though, which led many over the subsequent decades to speculate on the circumstances that led to her mysterious disappearance.
Strangely, there hasn’t been many motion pictures chronicling Amelia Earhart’s life, though her character shows up in a number of other productions as a fantasy character. For instance, Amelia Earhart has shown up in episodes of Star Trek: Voyager as a character, and also very recently in Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, with the always super-cute Amy ‘Enchanted‘ Adams playing the role.
Amelia – the film – doesn’t quite focus its attention on exploring the controversial circumstances of the historical person’s disappearance or attempt to chronicle her entire life. The film places its attention squarely on her last ten years, starting from her transatlantic flight where she rode as a passenger to her ill-fated flight around the world. The film stars Hilary Swank – an actress whose performances in The Core and Million Dollar Baby I really enjoyed – in the title role, with Richard Gere (Gaaaahhhh) starring as George Putnam, Earhart’s publicist and eventual husband. Bit roles also go to Ewan ‘Obi-Wan’ McGregor as Gene Vidal, a pioneering aviator, and Christopher Eccleston who starred as the villain in the same year’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra but plays Noonan in this film.
The film’s production values are impeccable: the recreation of 1930s-depression America is attractive, and there are lots of little details in the costumes, mannerisms and background scenery and objects that will thrill persons interested in the era. There are also absolutely stunning scenes of the flights overland, including an extended scene that’s included in the DVD but not in the actual film itself. Amelia is also supported by a lovely soundtrack by Gabriel Yared, and there are several music cues that are reminiscent of Yared’s incredible and award-winning work for The English Patient.
The faults with the film lie elsewhere though. For starters, while Swank looks like a splitting image of the real person, her performance this time seems strangely… disinterested. The historical character was a daredevil and thrill seeker. I’m guessing that Swank tries to project this in her performance but it all seems lethargic. There’s also the lack of chemistry between Gere and Swank. The key events are all factually there: her reluctance to marry, her elicitation of a very tough promise from her new husband at the marriage altar, and her alleged flirtation with Vidal, but you don’t sense any real emotion between the two leads despite the amount of shared screen time they both have.
The lackluster performance and absence of real chemistry prove deadly to the film too. By the time Earhart climbs into the cockpit for her fatal and last flight despite Putnam’s misforgivings, you don’t feel anything. No empathy, no sense of coming tragedy, and when Putnam looks out into the ocean apparently lost in his thoughts when there are no more radio calls from Earhart’s lost flight, it’s almost hilarious instead of tragic. That the dialog in the film is just dull doesn’t help too.
What’s strange also is the way the film juxtaposes scenes of the present – in 1937 – and flashbacks. The film starts with Earhart and Noonan desperately lost over the Pacific and trying to find a key marker island for their plane to refuel, and in the next two hours flashes back and forth between the significant events of her life to the film’s 1937 present. I’m not sure what the scriptwriters were thinking, but the wild movement within the timeline added nothing to the film for me.
So, a mixed bag and leaning on the poor side of the thing. You do get very pretty visuals and a great motion picture soundtrack. But on the overall, still a semi-dismal…