1930s aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Swank) captivates the world during the Great Depression, with husband George (Gere) exploiting her celebrity to fund her flying feats before she embarks on the perilous round-the-world flight that will make her legend.
Mira Nair bites off a lot to chew in an ambitious biopic of one of the greatest icons of the 20th century, Amelia Earhart. The result is a big, handsome, old-fashioned affair revolving around a heartfelt performance by Hilary Swank in another stunning transformation — this time into the tousle-haired, freckled and toothy tomboy whose spirit, style, exploits and mysterious disappearance continue to fascinate more than 70 years since her plane vanished over the Pacific.
Earhart has been the subject of so many books and films, her disappearance providing fodder for fables as diverse as capture by the Japanese and abduction by aliens, it’s a wonder there’s still more story to be told. But several areas are explored in a busy, bitty screenplay adapted from two of the most recent and exhaustive biographies. One theme is Amelia’s spirited embodiment of Modern Woman, one who refused to acknowledge gender restrictions and who only married the persistent George Putnam after putting in writing that she would not be bound to him. Another is how she was marketed, her name and image used to flog everything from her lines in sporty fashion and luggage to cigarettes and kitchen appliances, decades before every celeb launched a fragrance. (She’s “a better celebrity than a pilot”, one critic snipes.) And then there is the full love-life, her affections and passions divided between the older Putnam (silver fox Gere, alas, finally showing his age and failing to strike sparks) and dashing aviator Gene Vidal (a dandy McGregor). Oh yeah, and she flies a bit, becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic (as a passenger), then the first to do it solo, and notching up several other headline-grabbing firsts for woman or man.
Frankly we couldn’t get enough of the aerial sequences, in wonderful vintage planes, which convey the thrill, the danger and the scenery very well. But the film feels fragmented, flitting around between 1928 and 1937 and international locales, with a record-breaking flight mentioned here and a romantic interlude suggested there, making you want to rush to Wikipedia to fill in the gaps. The clothes are divine, but this only really takes off whenever Amelia slips the surly bonds of earth to touch the sky.
Swanks moving performance, the period dressing and beautiful planes all appeal, but dramatically it doesnt really soar.