I’m sure there was Oscar buzz all over this project when Fox Searchlight films announced the production Mira Nair’s Amelia and that its lead would be two time Oscar winner Hillary Swank. Sadly, her film is just a standard old fashioned Hollywood historical biography that highlights a decade or so of the life of the most famed female aviator. The film also highlights her romances with promoter/husband George Putnam and aviator Gene Vidal, father of the famous novelist/essayist Gore.
With handsome production values, lots of meticulous 1930’s atmosphere and two attractive leads (Swank and Richard Gere), you’d think this film can’t miss. But it lacks essential passion. Audiences don’t feel the heroic sweep of Earhart’s passion and free spirited lust for adventure.
While screenwriters Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan adapted two books based on Earhart’s life, their script is loaded with simple melodramatic scenes of trials and tribulations of being a female pilot. Other subplots include personal romances and her solo flight around the world in 1937, which ends when Earhart’s plane is lost over the Pacific heading for the home stretch toward the US. Standard voice over narration of Earhart’s personal feelings of flight and recited diary entries fill in for the motivation that Nair and Swank’s rather lackluster performance never quite capture.
Swank, looking remarkably like Earhart, is all surface emotion never approaching the levels of excellence of her Oscar winning performances of the past decade. Gere is one dimensional as her promoter/hubbie Putnam. In the ‘40’s, Katherine Hepburn might have been perfect in this role, but with today’s production standards and an equally capable lead you’d expect much more.