WASHINGTON, February 27, 2010 − Amelia (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), puts actress Hillary Swank into the role of the aviatrix Amelia Earhart and the Oscar winner ably manages to bring the woman we know through Movietone and press reels to life.
In this biopic, we meet a women whose passion to fly brings her to the attention of George Putnam (Richard Gere), publisher, author and explorer, a man who achieves fame by being one of the most successful promoters of the 1920s/30s.
His most famous “product” was Amelia Earhart.
Previously Putnam had worked with Charles Lindbergh, which brought him to the attention of American Amy Guest, a wealthy socialite living in London.
Guest wanted to be the first women to make a trans-Atlantic airflight, but personal circumstances led her to look for another woman, and Putnam suggested Earhart whom he dubbed Lady Lindy.
There are plenty of MovieTone news-clips, which are part of the blu-ray presentations extras that show a stilted, one-sided view of Amelia Earhart – a woman that became one of the most famous aviationists in history, but for her looks and style as much as her skill as a pilot.
A skill that Earhart sought to improve, however history and aviation experts alike have discounted her natural skills as a pilot as being mediocre.
Director Mira Nair’s interpretation of Earhart and Putnam seems to be culled only from those MovieTone images. Swank gets Earhart’s one dimensional publicized image, physically down however the most rudimentary knowledge of Earhart shows us a women who was born at the turn of the Century and lived in a time of great passion.
Nair only hints at the physical and emotional relationship between Putnam and Earhart. Instead of seeing the passion of a relationship that destroyed Putnam’s first marriage, we see very little of the fire that surely existed.
Earhart’s assignation with George Vidal (Ewan McGregor), for example, is barely hinted at. McGregor steals much of this films heart as we come to understand that he is the “other man” in Amelia’s life.
So the viewer knows, Amelia’s husband, George Putnam knows, it seems as though others in their inner circle know, but it is almost as though the unconventional, passionate feminist that Earhart was is the Macguffin in the room.
As a plot element, those passions – for flying, for being a jodhpur wearing feminist who enjoys the limelight and cause celeb of her life, for loving more than one man, her husband and her lover and demanding the right to do so, are only barely hinted at.
And it is disappointing. As the talent behind “Namesake” (2006), a movie whose characters are so fully developed, a movie that so carefully peels back the layers of a story to create a cinematic tour de force, I had hoped to leave Amelia knowing the women that I grew up hearing about.
But alas, Nair barely shows us the woman behind the aviator regretfully missing key elements from Earhart’s life.
There was simply a lot more to the woman than a young girl who first saw an airplane while standing in field to the young woman who lost her life attempting what was really little more than an ill advised publicity stunt.
For example, Earhart wanted to win every race and though she was not, according to those who are expert in such things, a naturally gifted pilot, she worked hard at being the best pilot she could be.
In the very important Santa Monica to Cleveland Women’s Air Derby of 1929, Nair fails to share with the viewer that the reason Earhart came in third is that she delayed her take off for the last leg of the race to help a competitor that had crashed.
How powerful it would have been for the women watching this film to have seen this early day pioneer supporting and caring for the people, and women in her life.
A caring that was so perfectly illustrated in the fact that she lost an important race to ensure a friend and competitor’s safety.
It is easy to adore Hilary Swank in the film and she did well recreating the Amelia Earhart we see in old films and photographs.
As George Putnam, a very driven and shrewd individual whom left his first wife and family for Amelia, Richard Gere, while looking so very well, is again restrained by a film that lacks the passion it could have so easily explored.
We see some brilliance in the quite smiles he bestows, and in one scene, where he acknowledges Amelia’s affair with Vidal, we see him almost releasing his talent.
However instead of what would have served as an emotional cotter pin for the film, he simple stands, clenched fists and walks away.
As George Putnam watched the surging tide for some sign of his wife, whose life was most likely lost in distant waves, I also watched.
Waiting for Amelia to emerge. We were both left disappointed.
The Goods: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewen McGregor.
Additionally, the film is very pretty. Costuming is right there and Nair did instill a sense of time and place to the film, which can be extremely tricky with a period piece like Amelia. It can be done badly, easily.
The Bads: I would have liked to see a little less of Amelia staring out the window at the clouds, and learned a lot more about Amelia as a women.
I was also offended, as a viewer in how the script seems to lay the blame on Amelia’s demise on Navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston). It seemed that the film implied Noonan, an alcoholic falling off the wagon before the last leg of the flight, may have been unable to function due to the hangover he suffered the next day.
I have read as much as I can find in relation to the Noonan and Earhart and their disappearance and nowhere did I read anything about Noonan being an alcoholic, other than to state that claims to that effect are little more than hearsay, or that anyone factually reported he may have been suffering the ill effects of a binge they day they took off never to return.
The Mandatory Extras: The blu-ray disc includes some fun to watch “Movie-Tone” news footage of Ameila shilling for casual wear, luggage and travel.
What is glaringly missing from the disc extra’s are interviews and information on The Ninety-Nines, Inc. an International Organization of Women Pilots, of which Amelia Earhart was the first president of the organization, chartered by 99 female pilots in 1931.
Other than Making Amelia, the extras are rather lackluster. Making Amelia provides that mandatory glimpse behind the production scenes as well as some Earhart history and an interesting look at how Swank physically transforms herself into Amelia Earhart.
The Movietone News Reels show us Amelia in action, speaking, getting ready to climb into the cockpit for this or that publicity purpose. However, these heavily produced snippets offer about as much emotional weight as the film.