Of late, Hilary Swank gives only two kinds of performances, award-winning, and duds. AMELIA, a prestige effort from Mira Nair, alas, delivers the latter. To be fair, she and everyone else concerned are not working from a script, but rather from a scenario thrown together with broad strokes and characters conceived as cardboard cut-outs of the actual people involved. The result is less engaging than a game of connect-the-dots, which is, essentially, all this is.
Its a poor tribute to a remarkable person, the second to fly solo across the Atlantic, and the first woman, at a time when the female of the species had enjoyed the right to vote for less than a decade, and such flying stunts could, and often did, prove fatal. The loving shots of Swanks face as she gazes in wonder, frets with concern, or just stares into space that make up so much of the film fails to evoke the sense of danger. Even the spectacle of first a co-pilot and then Earhart herself almost tumbling mid-flight from a plane whose door with a faulty latch has come undone is less heart-stopping than an extended and somewhat tedious pair of pratfalls. There is no giddiness, no exhilaration, no sense of adventure necessary to make any of this work even in the isolated and disjointed scenes strung together. Least of all in the chemistry between Swank and Richard Gere as Earharts mentor, George Putnam, who discovered her, nurtured her career as a celebrity, and became her mostly understanding husband. The mostly has to do with Earharts avant-garde views on marriage involving Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the West Point aviator and father of novelist Gore. The chemistry fizzles there, too, despite slinky gowns, and a carefully choreographed elevator seduction. Too well choreographed, perhaps, draining all hint of passion right out of it.
Working both ends of the story at once, it begins with Amelia Earhart Putnam beginning what would be her last flight. It was an ambitious plan to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe. There are flashbacks to her first meeting with Putnam, and as the 1937 Amelia flies east from Miami, the blanks of how she got there are filled in, spottily and with dialogue that plods with aphorisms. Swank gazes into space, Gere looks like a wounded marmot, and McGregor rallies as best he can by looking dashing. Would that it were enough.
The first sight of the eponymous aviatrix is not Swank herself, but her reflection in the polished metal of her Electra plane. Its muddled and distorted, a fitting beginning for a film that is much the same. The single best part AMELIA is the appearance of Vidals son, Gore (William Cuddy), who grew up to be an erudite man of letters, historian, novelist and cultural gadfly. In an otherwise painful scene that calls on Swank to make yet another hackneyed speech about courage, the younger Vidal asks her to marry his father aand calls into question the reasoning behind forbidding her to have two husbands at once. An original line of thought that presages a lifetime spent challenging the status quo. How ironic in a film that is a bio-pic cliché of the worst variety.