After becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) is thrust into a new role as America's sweetheart - the legendary 'goddess of light,' known for her bold, larger-than-life charisma. Yet, even with her global fame solidified, her belief in flirting with danger and standing up as her own, outspoken woman never changes. She is admired by all, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones) to the men closest to her heart: her husband, promoter and publishing magnate George P. Putnam (Richard Gere), and her long time friend and lover, pilot Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). In the summer of 1937, Amelia sets off on her most daunting mission yet: a solo flight around the world that she and George both anxiously foresee as destined, whatever the outcome, to become one of the most talked-about journeys in history.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's a shame that director Mira Nair has opted to tell this wonderful, historic story about iconic aviator adventuress Amelia Earhart through rose-coloured glasses. Romance edges ahead of adventure or characterisations and as a result, despite a soaring lead performance by Hilary Swank, the film suffers from a fatal dose of melodrama. That's not to say it isn't enjoyable, or that we are less than fascinated by the strong-minded vagabond of the air from Kansas who was indifferent to a life imprisoned in safety. I just wanted to be more involved.
Life begins in the spotlight for Swank's Amelia Earhart when Richard Gere's astute publisher and businessman George Putnam puts successful spin on her first historic crossing of the Atlantic. The fact she is forced to be a passenger, not the pilot, does not sit well with Amelia, but is something she is keen to rectify and later does so. It helps that she is pretty, says George, when it comes to raising interest and sealing a book deal and declares he will be but 'a small particle of dust in her constellation'. Amelia's ascendency as America's best known and admired woman is assured, but she begins to feel like a show pony being put through the hoops, as she does the rounds of appearances, photo-shoots and advertisements to finance her flying. The sky is the limit for her and above the clouds is where she is happiest; where she is able to move in three dimensions and conquer her own fears and challenges.
Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan have based their screenplay on two books (East to the Dawn, The Sound of Wings) but the adaptation fails to connect us with the reality of the times - excellent production design and score not withstanding. The romance and subsequent marriage to George ('to obey' is taken out of the marriage vows) is pure soap opera, and Amelia's involvement and affair with Ewan McGregor's airline pioneer Gene Vidal is predictable schmaltz. The importance placed on Amelia's relationship with Gene's young son Gore (the future author and political activist) seems but token. The best part lies in the last half hour, when circumstances and tensions surrounding Earhart's final flight in which she attempts to fly solo around the world, are recreated. The integrated archival footage of the real Amelia Earhart is a bonus.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I always maintain the context is truth; take things (and people) out of their context and it's no longer true, or complete (as in the whole truth of an oath in court). Mira Nair tries to tell the story of flying ace Amelia Earhart within the context of her era, when men and women assaulted the unconquered peaks - such as the Eiger's North face, in July 1937, the very same month that Amelia set off on her round the world attempt. It was an age of extraordinary activity, heralding the age of the plane. It was Amelia, together with Gene Vidal, who launched the air shuttle service between cities, for example, one of many pieces of information contained in this film.
Hilary Swank portrays Amelia as a quietly determined and entirely modern woman - modern in the sense of having emancipated opinions about life and men - with a passion for freedom both in the air and on the ground. She is nevertheless a feminine role model for women, and Swank gives her poise, courage, vulnerability ... all with a touch of reserve, which makes her special.
Richard Gere is terrific as George, who begins as her publisher and ends up as her promoter, manager and husband, totally in love with her. Their love survives her exceptional demands of freedom and living what she calls a 'vagabond' life, as well as an affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor, efficient but not charismatic). Cherry Jones has a lovely cameo as First Lady Roosevelt, but it's Christopher Eccleston as her navigator Fred Noonan who impresses the most, in a challenging role that could easily be overplayed.
Mira Nair also succeeds in matching Amelia's reserve in the tone of the film, which while not muted, is less triumphant and more intent on delivering Amelia in all her human dimension, including her flaws and weak spots (but makes some unnecessarily complicated time jumps in the process). Gabriel Yared's score is likewise a tad muted, but beautifully melodic.
Amelia reminds us how little we really know about the lives of the famous achievers who have changed the world, and underlines the power of biography on the screen. It's a creatively and technically accomplished film with thrills and emotional action in equal measure.
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CAST: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Cherry Jones, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Abrams, Ryann Shane, William Cuddy, Elizabeth Shepherd, Richard Donat
PRODUCER: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Kevin Hyman, Ted Waitt
DIRECTOR: Mira Nair
SCRIPT: Ronald Bass, Anna Hamilton Phelan (books by Susan Butler & Mary S. Lovell)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stuart Dryburgh
EDITOR: Allyson C. Johnson, Lee Percy
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephanie Carroll
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 12, 2009