I love the way a biopic makes me feel — like I'm treated to a back-in-time look at an amazing life. They're epic, and that's why I'm willing to sit through the slow moments (and often for more than two hours) for the payoff. This is the experience I hoped for from Amelia, directed by Mira Nair and starring Hilary Swank as the pioneering aviator who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
There's plenty of opportunity for grandness, even though Nair chose not to focus much on the circumstances of Earhart's disappearance during her flight around the world. Earhart had an extraordinary life, eschewing social conventions for her gender and never giving up her one true love: flying.
Unfortunately, Amelia misses the epic mark and lands instead somewhere in the mediocre, underusing its cast's talents and history's treasury. However, it's not an altogether unpleasant journey, so to see my thoughts on the film, just
First, the film is beautiful — Mira Nair knows how to shoot a gorgeous scene (she was behind the richly-styled films Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake), and she really takes advantage of the oceans, the landscapes of jungles, beaches, and moors. Much of it is seen through Amelia's eyes as she's soaring over it, and occasionally you feel the same freedom in flying that she so desires.
Along with the scenery, the minor success the film does achieve is ascribed to Hilary Swank's acting. I was expecting the two-time Oscar winner to be fantastic, and she didn't let me down. From transforming her looks to match the androgynous icon's to altering her voice to a Katherine Hepburn-ish gravel, she captures the pre-feminist aviatrix in all her glory.
The problem is that intriguing parts of Earhart's life are introduced but merely glossed over. For instance, Earhart's marriage to publisher George Putnam (played by Richard Gere) is complicated by the fact that she carries on an affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). However, this affair is only briefly touched on (they meet, they kiss, it's suddenly over). For his part, Ewan McGregor is given little more than a cameo role, which is an unsatisfying tease for any fan of the actor.
While I'm on unsatisfying, if you've ever been fascinated by the mysterious circumstances of Earhart's death (she disappeared over the Pacific on a round-the-world-flight), you'll get no gratification here. Understandably, there's no speculation about what happened, but there's no closure either.
That seemed justified, because when this project was announced, it was reported that Nair wouldn't focus on the mystery, but Earhart's remarkable life instead. Unfortunately, there's not enough focus on that remarkable life to do the woman's memory justice.
Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight