Mark Reviews Movies

AMELIA (2009)

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mira Nair

Cast: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Abrams, Cherry Jones

MPAA Rating: PG (for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 10/23/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Amelia Earhart was an independent woman who loved to fly and mysteriously disappeared in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe by airplane. If you didn't know this already, you will be absolutely floored by these revelations in Amelia. Also, let me be the first to welcome you to world from the rock you've been living under.

If, however, you have completed a third grade social studies class, this biopic will only tell you what you already know then tell you a third time but not before telling you a second time. It will also let you know that Earhart smiled and even frowned on occasion and spoke inspirational phrases in almost every social circumstance.

Amelia is so by the numbers, Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan's screenplay (based on two biographies of the aviator) feels like a rough draft outline, woefully waiting for someone to come along and flesh it out into something more than a highlight reel.

Speaking of highlight reels, there sure are plenty of those here. After every event in Earhart's aviation career, newsreel clips, complete with Movietone announcer (who'd be better known in this instance as Incessant, Iterating Second-hand Exposition Provider), appear on screen to tell us exactly what we've just seen and heard no less than five seconds beforehand. Do Bass and Phelan or some producer or studio exec really think that audiences have absolutely no short-term memory, or was someone simply trying to pad the whole movie out under the guise of supposed authenticity?

I'd have to go with the padding theory, because what actually happens in the moment doesn't say too much.

Hilary Swank, who certainly looks and sounds the part, plays Earhart, but her performance is really dwindled down to the haircut, the Midwestern twang, and the smiles and occasional frowns. This is not an insult to Swank. In a different movie about Earhart, she may well have given the role some genuine depth, but that would have to be a more thoughtful movie on the subject.

The Earhart of this movie looks happy when she's flying (unless scared when the weather turns bad), determined when she's planning a flight, and upset when her publisher/publicist/husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) gets her to sell luggage, clothing, and a waffle iron. When she's talking, it's usually in maxims about dreams and not letting anyone tell you to give up on those dreams. All the while, ominous yet inspirational three-note brass scales hum underneath.

The highlight reel treatment of Earhart's professional accomplishments is understandable, but where the movie really loses its characters are in the moments between. Earhart and Putnam have a fairly contemporary relationship for the 1930s, which means that Earhart is determined not to let her husband run her life.

How does the society of the time view this relationship? Does Putnam, apparently a prominent public figure prior to meeting Earhart, resent his role as second fiddle?

Nothing is made of anything interesting, and the deepest the script manages to get into their marriage is that Putnam loves her. He loves her in spite of her affair with fellow aviation enthusiast Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), father of Gore (who at this point is a ten-year-old kid—in one unintentionally funny scene—afraid of the tigers on the wallpaper; that scene, of course, turns into a cliché about facing your fears). He loves her in spite of her constant attempts at dangerous feats. The guy loves her; that's it.

She doesn't want a traditional married life, and I suppose the trans-Atlantic flights, the plane racing, and the plan to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by plane are meant to show that. Well, they're really only there because she did those things, but I have to grasp at straws to find something more about the characters than their newspaper headlines (of which, I should point out, there are a lot in the movie, too).

While her life unfolds, director Mira Nair intercuts scenes from Earhart's failed 1937 attempt to fly around the world. She waxes poetic on what she sees (smiling all the while, of course) and how her life has led her to this point and so on.

When the movie finally returns to the flight, it goes over everything yet again, and after a teary radio farewell to Putnam (She's apparently overcome with dramatic irony), we're brought to Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan's (Christopher Eccleston) last hours before their disappearance.

This sequence is a tedious "see, we did our research" one, showing repeated attempts by Earhart and the Coast Guard to contact each other on the radio with cuts to clocks and watches to show the times of the transmissions.

The anticlimactic feeling of this sequence is only emphasized by the similar sensation that accompanies the rest of Amelia. This is an underwhelming biography that inadvertently downplays its subject's accomplishments by neglecting her as more than the sum of them.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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Buy the Soundtrack

Buy the Book (East to the Dawn)

Buy the Book (The Sound of Wings)

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