On July 2, 1937 aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan officially departed the realm of historical record to become an enduring and almost hypnotically appealing, living mythology. What became of Earhart and Noonan after the radio tower lost contact with them on the last leg of their transatlantic crossing instantly became fodder for tabloid speculation and later, revered legend.
The film version of those, as well as other events in Earhart's brief span on this earth, leading up to that fateful last length, doesn't quite live up to either the legend or legacy of Earhart - the woman, or Earhart - the aviatrix. Instead, director Mira Nair's Amelia (2009) is something of a casual, occasionally lugubrious tale of greatness snuffed out in its prime, yet without either a detailed character study of its protagonist or a mastering of the impact Earhart had on aviation history.
The screenplay by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan is based on two novelized interpretations of Earhart's life; the first by Susan Butler, the latter by Mary S. Lovell. Whereas both books manage to retain a sense of Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) as a woman of indomitable spirit and vigour, the film merely plays her as a loveable misfit out of step and out of time until her life and love are discovered, unlocked and skilfully tapped by publishing tycoon George Putnam (Richard Gere).
Told as a giant flashback, the story begins with Earhart and Noonan's (Christopher Eccleston) fateful flight. From here we are treated to the briefest glimpse of Earhart as a precocious child, obsessed with flying. The story jumps forward to the moment Earhart first meets Putnam - already a married man. Putnam proposes Earhart be the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a plane. Naturally, the idea appeals to Earhart, until she learns that she is merely to be a passenger. The pilots will be Slim Gordon (Aaron Abrams) and Bill (Joe Anderson); two macho flyers who have little faith in Earhart's abilities to navigate their journey. Earhart, however, refuses to give up.
Arriving back in New York after their successful landing in Whales, Putnam engages his 'star' attraction for a series of guest lectures and public appearances that capitalize on her instant fame. He even encourages Earhart to write a book about her experience. Earhart, however, is ashamed of the rouse and shortly thereafter sets off to prove her own metal as the first female pilot of merit.
Her guts and gumption earn Earhart Putnam's respect and eventually his love. Putnam divorces his wife and marries Earhart. However, at a house party Earhart also meets Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the future U.S. Federal Aviation Administrator. A divorced father with a young son, Gene falls madly for Earhart and the two begin a quiet romance under Putnam's watchful eye.
Eventually, Earhart realizes that she loves her husband more and returns to him, chaste and determined to be faithful evermore. Undaunted to complete one final flight circumnavigating the globe, Earhart's first attempt in Hawaii ends with fiery disillusionment as the plane's landing gear fails and snaps off on the runway.
Making their repairs, Earhart and Noonan choose to fly their Lockheed Electra in reverse direction, thereby leaving the transpacific crossing to the end of their flight. But shortly after takeoff radio transmissions between Earhart and the Coast Guard picket ship Itasca reveal a looming crisis that cannot be fixed. Doomed, Earhart and Noonan fly into the clouds with the wind at their backs, a silent understanding between them that this is indeed their final hour in flight.
Amelia is hardly perfect entertainment, and yet there is so much that is good. Kudos go largely to Hilary Swank for her emblematic turn as Earhart. If only the script had been more articulate at fleshing out the character we might have been privy to a truly fine performance. More than looking the part, Swank has the demeanour and that intangible quality of Earhart coursing through her veins. The way she moves, a quick flash of the eyes or sudden turn of her head; these are Earhart gestures not merely copied, but somehow assimilated and timelessly represented in Swank's very fibre of being.
The same cannot be said for Richard Gere's dull and uninspiring performance as Putnam. Ewan McGregor is a fine actor, but he's given preciously little to do within the screenplay except fawn over Earhart and occasionally attempt a mild confrontation with Putnam to win her affections.
Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography captures much of the glamour from the period with freshness and, at times, beautifully composed shots that herald all the way back to another era in film making; one utterly void of MTV styled chop-shop editing. But Nair's direction is pedestrian at best. Somewhere amidst the heavy handed way she stages certain sequences there is a would-be epic to be told. Regrettably, that story never materializes in anything but brief glimpses, leaving the contemporary audience wondering what all the fuss about Earhart was in the first place.
20th Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray transfer is quite stunning. The 2:35:1 widescreen image exhibits a rich palette of colors. At times the image can be quite sharp, with sumptuously realized fine details. However, there are moments where the visual characteristic adopts a rather soft quality that this reviewer does not recall experiencing in the theatrical presentation of this film. On the whole, the quality of this disc will surely not disappoint. The audio is lossless Dolby Digital, ideally complimenting this visual presentation.
Extras include deleted scenes, vintage MovieTone newsreel footage and five featurettes on the making of the film and Earhart the woman and the legacy of her journey.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)