Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 111 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
You would have to be a bit of a grouch (or a cinema buff who liked only more avant garde or experimental film-making) not to enjoy this old-fashioned lavishly produced portrait of aviator, Amelia Earheart, during her ten years of limelight and flying feats. Especially if you know how it ends, you can sit back and be absorbed by this visit to the US of the 1920s and 1930s. Certainly the production values, sets, costumes, songs help us to immerse ourselves in this era.
While the framework of the narrative is Earheart’s last flight around the world, the film is principally flashbacks to Amelia’s emerging as a successful pilot, her being in command although a passenger in the cross Atlantic flight of 1928, her further flights, her being promoted by publisher (and one of the inventors of celebrity, PR and advertising sponsorships), George Putnam, her marriage, her support for women pilots and organisations, her involvement in commercial aviation and her being one of the most popular Americans during the Depression and the 1930s.
The director is Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, The Namesake) who brings a deep female sensibility to the storytelling and atmosphere and a sensitive attention to detail as well as to the emotion of the story. And the strength of the film is Hilary Swank, looking remarkably like the actual Amelia Earheart who is glimpsed in final photos and newsreel clips. Since winning her Oscar for Boy’s Dont Cry in 1999, consolidated by her second Oscar in 1994 for Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank has emerged as a versatile actress, portraying strong characters vigorously. Her Amelia has a passion for flying. The air is home for her.
Son of the founder of the publishing firm, George Putnam, had promoted Charles Lindbergh and his book after his transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St Louis. He intended to do the same for Amelia. And, he did, eventually pushing her into lecture tours, sponsoring advertising for cigarettes, cameras and her own fashion line. It was to make money to pay for her flights so she concurred even though it went against the grain for her. Putnam is nicely played as a promoter who falls in love with Amelia and marries her by that most durable of now older stars, Richard Gere. Ewan McGregor appears as the West Point aviation lecturer, Gene Vidal (father of author and celebrity, Gore Vidal, who is seen as a young boy being helped by Amelia to overcome his fears). The screenplay posits a relationship between Amelia and Vidal but emphasises her commitment to George Putnam.
Supporting characters include Fred Noonan, (Christopher Eccleston) her navigator on her fatal flight, an expert in his field, an alcoholic, who did his best for Amelia. Mia Wasikowska is Eleanor Smith, an ambitious young pilot, and Cherry Jones, in a cameo, is an enthusiastic Eleanor Roosevelt.
Amelia Earheart lived in the early days of radio and of the newsreel so was often in the press and the public eye. She was a darling of America during the Depression and is still considered one of the most popular of Americans of the past.
Beautifully photographed with a lushly emotional score, this is the kind of film that Hollywood does so well, light but substantial, emotional but inspiring, a picture of a free spirit who encouraged risk and commitment to her passion. (Previous films on Amelia Earheart include the 1976 biopic with Susan Clark and the 1994 Amelia Earheart: The Final Flight with Diane Keaton – perhaps playing too much of Diane Keaton than Amelia for some audience’s taste. While watching the film, it seems that Katharine Hepburn would have relished playing her contemporary – in fact she did in the 1933 Christopher Strong in a character loosely based on Amelia Earheart.)
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