Amelia Earhart is arguably one of the most fascinating figures in history and one of the world’s most enduring mysteries. Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and later she attempted to become the first woman to fly across the world. The fact that nobody knows what happened to Earhart the day she attempted her doomed final flight has made her a legendary enigma. Considering how many unanswered questions her life left, it’s a surprise and a disappointment that “Amelia” is so boring.
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In fact, “Amelia” is not really a story about Earhart’s life at all, but just about her career as a pilot. While her flying exploits are probably the most interesting aspect of her story, it would’ve been nice to learn more about the woman behind the goggles. All the audience is told is that as a child Amelia (Hilary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby”), in an attempt to mentally escape her country life, loved to watch planes fly above the fields of Kansas. The film is content to portray Earhart as nothing more than a cliché.
After meeting publisher and promoter George Putnam (Richard Gere, “Nights in Rodanthe”), Amelia signs up to fly across the Atlantic and make history. Despite being saddled with an alcoholic co-pilot, Amelia stands her ground and refuses to be marginalized by her chauvinistic counterparts. Later, she continues to buck the system and marries Putnam after claiming the marriage will not be bound to old-fashioned ideas of faithfulness. Maybe in real life this made sense, but it’s hard to believe that Putnam would want to marry the strange, slightly annoying woman Earhart is portrayed as in the film. And they don’t even have a shred of screen chemistry.
In today’s day and age, it’s bizarre to think that at one point America worshiped (going so far as to throw ticker-tape parades) those who did nothing more than fly across the Atlantic. And why should today’s audiences care? Well the film never bothers explaining why these feats were so amazing, leading to a strong disconnect between the “heroic” action on the screen and the reaction of the audience in the theater.
Swank does a credible job portraying Amelia as a wide-eyed country girl who says things like “that’s hooey” and who just happened to find herself as America’s newest sweetheart. But Swank falters somewhat in grounding Earhart in nothing more than the stereotype of the anti-society woman, wearing pants, keeping her hair short and refusing to be dominated by the men in her life. The rest of the actors in the film are clearly phoning it in, believing that adopting strange old timey accents takes the place of actual acting.
Sure, the on-screen Amelia has spunk and determination, but the woman herself remains a mystery. The true motivation behind her daring flights — or her extra-marital tryst with fellow aviation enthusiast Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor, “Angels & Demons”) — is never really explored. The film briefly implies that she is simply flying for the fame and money. But that’s it.
The entire film feels much too rushed and, frankly, too tired. There is not one credible moment of suspense or even genuine emotion. At the end of the film, grainy footage is shown of the real Amelia Earhart, and it stirs more feelings than the entire two hours preceding it.
By the time the film arrives at Earhart’s final flight, audiences won’t care. It doesn’t say much about a film when the audience can’t wait for the heroine to disappear. If only she would have taken the film with her and saved us all the trouble.