MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Amelia’

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Amelia Earhart, the new film about her tells us, was once the most famous woman in America — if not the world. She was the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic, a feat many men died trying to perform. She wrote best-selling books about her many record-setting experiences, became an inspirational figure to women in her own field and beyond, and had an unconventional, ahead-of-its-time marriage.

She must have been a fascinating woman — but you wouldn’t know it watching the slick but unsatisfying “Amelia.”

Oscar winner Hilary Swank has been transformed physically into the iconic aviatrix, but she has none of her vitality. It makes for a big hole in a movie that shows Earhart not just as a trailblazing flyer, but also the heroine of a grand romance.

Both parts of her life took off at the same time. In 1928, a rich woman chose the young pilot to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic — though she never touched the controls. Publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), the promoter of the scheme, explains that more experienced male pilots would man the plane. Amelia would write a book about the flight, though, and become famous enough to make her own transatlantic trips. She also fell in love with the publisher, 10 years her senior.

But she craved freedom on the ground as much as in the air. It takes the besotted Putnam a long time to persuade Amelia to marry him, and on their wedding day she gives him a letter that read in part, “I shall not hold you to any midaevil [sic] code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.”

That warning doesn’t keep Putnam from being crushed when he discovers she’s fallen in love with another pilot, Gene Vidal (whose son Gore makes a few appearances). Gene (Ewan McGregor) and Amelia work together to establish the nation’s first airborne shuttle.

But Amelia is never satisfied standing still. Though she has the love of two men, a friend in first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones) and the adoration of the public, she wants more — to fly across the world. Scenes depicting that doomed 1937 flight around the world with navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) are interwoven through the story.

There’s no question “Amelia” is a striking film. The 1920s and ‘30s are beautifully re-created, as is Earhart’s daredevil flying — she was often criticized for being reckless. Director Mira Nair has also given us an interesting picture of celebrity and marketing — advertising did exist before “Mad Men,” you know. Amelia doesn’t feel comfortable endorsing cigarettes she doesn’t smoke, but it’s the only way to raise the funds for her expensive planes.

But Miss Swank has little sparkle, and there’s even less in the script by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan. The dialogue is filled with cliches. “Just hold onto yourself,” Gene tells a lost Amelia. “I’m not sure who that is anymore,” she responds, while later George tells her that home is “anywhere you are” in a scene that’s meant to be a tearjerker.

“Flying lets me move in three dimensions,” Amelia explains of her passion. In this film, though, she’s a flat character seen only in two.

★★
TITLE: “Amelia”
RATING: PG (some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking)
CREDITS: Directed by Mira Nair. Written by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan based on books by Susan Butler and Mary S. Lovell.
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
WEB SITE: foxsearchlight.com/amelia
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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