- RatedPG /GenreDrama
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Rating: 2.5 out of 5
It takes an almost mind-boggling effort for a filmmaker to examine the sweeping expanse of the eventful life of Amelia Earhart, one of the most fascinating personalities who has ever lived, and distil it into as prosaic a biopic as this.
That this occurred under the watchful eye of Indian director Mira Nair, a much-admired filmmaker whose more recent credits include Monsoon Wedding (2001) and The Namesake (2006), just adds to the mystery.
It was the mystery surrounding the disappearance of pioneering American aviator Earhart that made her life story such fodder for filmmakers, writers and conspiracy theorists. In 1937, she embarked on an around-the-world flight and vanished with nary a trace over the Pacific Ocean.
The latest of several films that have attempted to tell the story of Earhart's life, Nair's effort does little justice to the Kansas-born aviatrix-cum-celebrity. In reality, Earhart had lived a remarkably full 40 years; she had served as a nurse's aide during World War One, prior to tackling the complicated task of mastering an airplane and challenging the forces of nature. The weight of all this, and more, is never clearly conveyed.
The problem with the film is that so much of it feels abortive and incomplete. As is convention in run-of-the-mill biopics like this, there is a heightened focus on romance, in this case between Earhart, played by Oscar winner Hilary Swank, and her sponsor George Putnam (Richard Gere).
The film traces events from 1928, when Earhart is selected to commander a plane across the Atlantic, and her blossoming relationship with Putnam. Before you can say 'love triangle', Earhart's fellow aviation pioneer Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) is added as a banal third-party love-interest element.
But with neither romance particularly compelling, and little chemistry between Swank and either of her male co-stars, the film starts to stall and sputter.
Away from the tiresome romantic developments, the film's best moments come when it depicts Earhart's struggles with bad weather while flying solo across the Atlantic, and in the dramatic finale where she and navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Ecclestone) attempt to find a way to a tiny island in the Pacific.
Swank's casting as Earhart, in theory, seems like Oscar bait. But other than mouthing certain feminist lines, she never really comes across as inhabiting the character or her determination and conviction. Gere fairs little better as Putnam, while McGregor's brief appearance as Vidal seems perfunctory at best.
Ecclestone's take as Noonan is probably the most complex interpretation in the film, but even then he is obscured by Swank's gawky shadow. Plagued by mediocrity, Amelia never really soars. It skims the surface of the legend it purportedly explores and never reaches its intended destination, assuming it held the ambition to go far in the first place.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!" Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part III (1990).