(director: Mira Nair; screenwriters: Ron Bass/Anna Hamilton Phelan/based on the books East to the Dawn by Susan Butler and The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell; cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh; editors: Allyson C. Johnson/Lee Percy; music: Gabriel Yared; cast: Hilary Swank (Amelia Earhart), Richard Gere (George Palmer Putnam), Ewan McGregor (Gene Vidal), William Cuddy (Gore Vidal), Christopher Eccleston (Fred Noonan), Joe Anderson (Bill), Aaron Abrams (Slim Gordon), Cherry Jones (Eleanor Roosevelt), Mia Wasikowska (Elinor Smith); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Ted Waitt/Kevin Hyman/Lydia Dean Pilcher; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2009)
“Never takes off.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”/”Migration”/”The Namesake”) can’t get enough dramatic tension in this bland old-fashioned formulaic star-power biopic on celebrity aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) and instead helms an earthbound aviation pic that’s handicapped further by stilted dialogue. It’s based on the books East to the Dawn by Susan Butler and The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, and is written by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan. Much of the info in those books never makes it to film.
The unimaginative “Amelia” never takes off as good drama. It instead offers reasonably good aerial photography shots and a tiresome long laundry list of the famous woman flyer’s accomplishments (by the numbers), her marriage to her caring handler George Putnam (Richard Gere), her brief affair with aeronautics professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) –the father of the future famous author and wit Gore Vidal (William Cuddy), her feminism aspirations, her dreams of flying above all else, and the need for her to besmirch her Lady Lindy rep by hawking products in order to raise money to support her expensive flying habit.
The film picks up with Amelia as an eager-beaver but inexperienced pilot who meets in the late 1920s George Putnam, the New York publisher responsible for making Charles Lindbergh a few years earlier a bestselling author. George hopes to work his magic again with a female flyer. In 1928, Amelia becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (though only as a passenger). Nevertheless she becomes an instant celeb and hits the lecture circuit and becomes a spokesperson for various products, which help her fund her flying adventures.
Steering clear of conspiracy theories that have circulated about Amelia’s doomed last flight in 1937, Nair tastefully films (courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh) the 39-year-old Kansas native going down in the Pacific Ocean with her navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) while flying in their twin-engine Lockheed L-10 Electra and trying to locate a remote bare island to refuel. Their plane, which attempted to circumnavigate the globe, was never located. The icon’s winning personality and adventurous life and tragic death has always made her a fascinating subject in aviation lore, which is something this pic couldn’t do–it was simply too boring, not that well acted (Swank looks and dresses like Amelia, but never inhabits the flyer’s dynamic personality), and provided no analysis or insight about Amelia that would compel us to see such a conventional pic.
REVIEWED ON 11/25/2009 GRADE: C