There’s nothing really wrong about this biopic about Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank), but there’s not much right about it either – if you’re looking for any insightful illumination into the iconic character of America’s most famous aviatrix.
It’s candy-colored, sugar-coated traditional, telling the oft-told tale of how she always yearned to fly free; her marriage to promoter/publisher, George P. Putnam (Richard Gere) who, having made Charles Lindbergh a best-selling author, envisioned her as Lady Lindy; her tryst with fellow pilot, Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the father of a very young Gore Vidal (William Cuddy); her friendship with navigator, Fred Noonan (Chris Eccleston); and how her plane disappeared on July 2, 1937, without a trace en route to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean, some 2,500 miles from New Guinea, on a daring flight to circumnavigate the globe.
Back in 1995, I collaborated with my father (Armand Deutsch) on a chapter about Amelia Earhart in an anthology – “Unfinished Lives: What If?” (Dove Books) – speculating on what might have happened if Amelia had been found. In our research, we unearthed information about how First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (played here by Cherry Jones) and Amelia were able to race, undetected, from a formal White House dinner to Washington airport to circle in a small plane over the Capitol on a clear night.
Considering the wealth of lore available to screenwriters Ron Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Gorillas in the Mist”), based on two subsequently published Earhart biographies, they could have come up with more tantalizing tidbits. But they didn’t. And director Mira Nair (“The Namesake,” “Vanity Fair,” “Monsoon Wedding”), who usually relishes controversial women’s issues, plays it safe. As a result, Kasia Walicka Maimone’s captivating period costumes and Stuart Dryburgh’s aerial images are more compelling than the bland, banal characters. Tackling yet another androgynous role, two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank delivers an earnest performance but her Amelia never soars. So on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Amelia” is a shallow, superficial 5, far better suited to the Biography channel than the big-screen.