‘Amelia’ needs assist with liftoff

“Amelia” — director Mira Nair’s presentation of the life, loves and wardrobe of Amelia Earhart — is a frustratingly mild and unoriginal portrait of the aviation pioneer, female-achievement champion and Depression-era dynamo.

The film dips us into the flapper age and carries us over the clouds with visual adeptness. But when it comes to both the compelling adventure that this movie aims to be and the character portrait that it needs to be, somebody should have turned on the
propellers.

Doomed by a subpar screenplay (based on the books “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “The Sound of Wings” by Mary S. Lovell) and tame direction from the usually vital Nair (“Salaam Bombay,” “Mississippi Masala”), the film plays like an Amelia 101 course infused with an obligatory love story and seasoned with period trimmings.

The drama begins in 1928, when independent-spirited young pilot Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) crosses the Atlantic, as a passenger, on a flight that will make her a superstar.

It ends in 1937, when Amelia disappears over the South Pacific while circumnavigating the globe.

In between, Amelia marries publisher-promoter George Putnam (Richard Gere) and becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, among numerous other triumphs.

She has an affair with aviator Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). She mentors female pilots. To fund her flights, she writes books, gives lectures, endorses products and creates a clothing line.

With such an extraordinary life to present, this movie couldn’t possibly be a snoozer, and it certainly contains choice moments.

The problem is that Nair seems so focused on the flight-action suspense and the period details that she shortchanges the human
dimensions.

Rather than exploring what enables Amelia to soar, or Amelia’s apparent reckless gene, she gives us a near-flawless heroine with a winning grin, transports her from one visually impressive but dramatically dull event to another, and saddles her with a tepid Earhart-Putnam love story.

Swank fares so-so. In the final flight passage, as Amelia’s face registers the realization of doom, the actress reminds us of what she’s capable of, but she generally appears to feel constrained by everything from Amelia’s killer wardrobe to the confines of the
cockpit.

Amelia says she flies for fun, but Swank — who in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby” convinced us, movingly, that her doomed characters were loving the unconventional lives they had achieved — conveys less joy here.

The best work comes from Christopher Eccleston, playing Fred Noonan, the navigator on Amelia’s last flight. Unfortunately, Nair has chopped up that segment and inserted it into the story disjointedly.

 

MOVIE REVIEW

Amelia

Two starts

Starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston

Written by Ron Bass, Anna Hamilton Phelan

Directed by Mira Nair

Rated PG

Running time 1 hour 41 minutes

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