As Amelia Earhart (Swank, who bears a remarkable resemblance) makes her flight around the world with her navigator, Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston, "Jude", BBC's "Doctor Who"), she remembers back to her start and to various key moments in her life. G.P. Putnam (Gere) has just published an autobiography of Lindbergh (who he doesn't like) and is trying to make lightning strike twice. One of his wealthy socialite friends has just purchased a plane and wants G.P. to find the "first woman to cross the Atlantic". Amelia has a lifelong desire to fly prompting her to apply for the position. She jumps at the chance even though it is little more than a charade. Putnam has hired a crew and Earhart will be the "Commander", while the two men actually fly the plane. When they arrive in Europe, Earhart becomes a celebrity. Putnam is only too eager to capitalize but he also finds he likes Amelia's pluck. They become lovers and Putnam wants her to marry him; she is honest with Putnam because she doesn't want to hurt him, she is too much of a free spirit; she wants adventure and doesn't want to be tied down. Eventually, she decides to do the actual flight, alone, to earn the title she already has. Then she makes plans for longer, more dangerous trips. Along the way, she meets Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the father of a young boy named Gore (who would grow up to become a famous author) and they have an affair. Then, while making the last leg of her journey around the world, something happens and a mystery begins.
Mira Nair, the director of such films as "Mississippi Mermaid" and "Monsoon Wedding" would seem like a great choice to helm this biopic. A female director used to making largely independent films (if I'm not mistaken, this may be her first big budget film) she seems like a natural fit to tell the story of this very independent woman, an adventurer, who 'defied the odds". But Nair does a strange thing and creates a very straightforward biopic, beautiful to look at but very straightforward and even a little boring.
Because "Amelia" is so straightforward, it almost seems like a series of vignettes designed to capture the buzzwords that might describe Amelia Earhart. I am actually most disappointed with the work of Ron Bass, the screenwriter. Bass is a well-known and very successful screenwriter, the writer of films like "Rainman" and "The Joy Luck Club", so when you go to a film like "Amelia", you expect to learn a little something about the character, to peel back some of the layers and reveal their inner workings. But because everything is so straightforward, it almost seems like he is trying to provide illustrations for a Cliff Notes version of the aviator's life. She is a "woman who defied the odds", so we watch her plan exceedingly more difficult and dangerous flights. As she accomplishes each one, she receives acclaim and notice, but the film seems to downplay most of this. Amelia is also a "free spirit", so she eventually decides to marry G.P. but only after extracting a promise that they both can follow their heart where it leads them. These are all on the surface and don't help us get to the inner workings of the character. We could all learn this from reading a few articles about Amelia on the internet. Why don't we ever learn why she has such an overriding desire to fly? It isn't because she wants fame. But why?
It doesn't help that the film is framed by showing us moments of the fateful flight around the world. An ominous declaration foreshadows the most dangerous leg, but because we are watching the rest of her life, in more or less chronological order, as she remembers back during this flight, the film seems episodic. It feels like so much time is allocated for moment A. Check, move on. So much time is allocated for moment B. Check, move on. And so forth.
Hilary Swank is a very good as Amelia. Her physical resemblance is amazing and she seems to be channeling the spirit of Katherine Hepburn (who, when young, also resembled Earhart). She brings a certain amount of 'daring-do' to the role and this fits nicely. But I think she is really short changed by the director and her screenplay. Since neither really allows her to get to the bottom of who Earhart really was, she can't. She gives life to some of the romantic entanglements but that is about it. We never really get a feel for why she dislikes the fame and promotion side of what she becomes. We never really get a feel for why she wants to fly beyond the brief shot of a young Amelia running through a field, her hand slicing through the air (a shot so stereotypical, I could go on for pages about this moment alone).
Richard Gere is okay as her lover, the publisher G. P. Putnam. He quickly gets across the various aspects of his character (a mover and shaker, ready and willing for the next deal, eager to create buzz about everything he is involved in) and then spends the rest of the film trying to keep Amelia in check. Later, as she moves on to Vidal, he spends what seems like an enormous amount of screen time looking forlorn and crying.
I think it is time for Gere to hang up this type of role. He seems to have a lock playing the older lover of a younger woman and always playing the roles as very emotional and frequently crying. I'm all for male actors showing emotion, but he plays the older lover of younger women far too often. It is almost as bad as Woody Allen consistently casting the hottest young actress in Hollywood as his lover in every film. Granted, there is less of a generational gap between Gere and most of his co-stars, but it is still creepy. Almost as though he is consistently trying to relive his glory days as the hot young lead of such films as "An Officer and a Gentlemen" or "American Gigolo". For me, the real turning point was in "Unfaithful", when Gere played the faithful husband to Diane Lane and she has an affair with Olivier Martinez. Gere is in another generation than Lane, who is herself in another generation than Martinez.
Ewan McGregor is okay as Vidal. We don't really get a sense of who he is or why he is interested in Earhart, but he shows a certain amount of pluck. I'm not sure why, but every time he is on screen, he is interesting to watch, perhaps because we know very little about him and the mystery keeps us guessing and watching. I also find it strange that McGregor isn't even listed as one of the stars of the film. Every trailer and television ad shows all three, but only mentions Swank and Gere by name.
I think "Amelia" is too conventional for its own good and because of this will quickly be forgotten. Considering the amount of box office and buzz it is creating, I think the film may already be forgotten.
Now which film was I talking about again?