Thursday, October 29, 2009

Amelia has trouble getting airborne

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 3:33 PM


By Matt Brunson



STARS Hilary Swank, Richard Gere

In its effort to be one of the first Oscar-bait titles out of the gate, the stately but sterile Amelia ends up stumbling over its own feet. A handsome production that fusses over every detail in order to provide the proper look, this biopic forgets to include any sort of spark necessary to get its motor running.

As aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, Hilary Swank adroitly mixes tomboy charm with feminist strength, but she’s let down by a script (by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan) that doesn’t allow her to burrow even an inch under her character’s skin. Her Amelia is painted in broad strokes, and as such, the dramatizations of her aerial achievements don’t carry the power that should automatically go with lofty historical territory of this caliber.

Where the movie most succeeds in its exploration of Amelia’s relationships with two distinct men. Publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere) was the person who discovered Amelia and guided her career; they eventually married, but the film posits that she embarked on an affair with fellow flight expert Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) before returning to her loving husband. Swank and Gere don’t exude magnetism in their scenes together, but it’s not that kind of relationship: Theirs is a partnership forged from mutual respect and common ground, and it’s a credit to both performers that the union feels authentic and enviable. As for Amelia’s dalliance with Vidal, it’s the only time the movie allows its heroine to be recognizably human rather than merely an untouchable icon.

The final portion of the picture naturally centers on the ill-fated 1937 flight that led to the disappearance of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) over the Pacific Ocean. Despite our knowing the outcome, this segment is fairly tense, although some feeble fabrications surrounding the tragedy prove to be as daft as the cinematic theory that the Titanic sank because the watchmen were too busy watching DiCaprio and Winslet smooch to notice the iceberg right in front of them.

We’ve seen it before: An acclaimed independent director gets seduced by mainstream Hollywood and ends up taming his or her wild side in order to toe the studio line. Here, the unfortunate one is Mira Nair, whose Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala were vibrant, colorful achievements that brought life and vigor to the big screen. Conversely, her take on Amelia Earhart seems earmarked for a day at the museum.

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