It seems like a trend that you can count on is that every Oscar season there will be at least one film based on a historical figure’s real life that garners attention. Whether it’s a film about a musical legend like “Ray,” or “Walk the Line,” a famous athlete such as “Ali,” or a political figure as in the case of “The Queen” or last year’s “Frost/Nixon,” these films all have one thing in common, they often feature an actor in a career changing role as a well known real life person. By all accounts, “Amelia” is no different as it features an opportunity at a third consecutive Oscar Award nomination for two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank, who is absolutely captivating in this marvelous performance. The film also represents a possible long over-due Oscar nomination for the constantly underrated Richard Gere, who gives the performance of his career as Amelia’s life-long love, George Putnam.
Where most Biopics bore you with an opening sequence featuring the character as a child growing-up and learning some important life lesson that will prove important later in the film, “Amelia” refreshingly begins with the pilot taking off for her final voyage, waving to her adoring fans and the press and saying goodbye to her husband. The film cuts back and forth between her final journey and the road that led her there. We first see Amelia in publisher George Putnam’s office meeting with him about a job opportunity. After Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, philanthropist Amy Phipps Guest wanted to help get the first woman to fly across the Atlantic so along with Putnam they began looking for candidates and decided to hire Earhart. What follows is Earhart’s first successful journey across the Atlantic as a passenger, the so-called Commander of the plane. A title that is first meaningless until her relentlessness earns the respect of her co-pilots.
After the successful journey Earhart eventually falls in love with Putnam and the two marry. We see Earhart begin to enjoy fame and celebrity from her flying. She convinces Putnam to help her fulfill her dream of flying and they begin working together with Putnam acting as her agent, booking her on publicity tours and speaking engagements to help fund her flying. The film chronicles all her flying achievements including her successful flight from Hawaii to California becoming the first person to ever do that solo. The film also follows her struggle to educate woman and how she became an advocate for female flying. But the true heart of the film is the love affair between Earhart and Putnam, who Earhart does cheat on at one point in her life with Pilot Gene Vidal, played by Ewan McGregor. The film finally catches up with her fateful journey and does a great job of dramatizing the moment for the audience even though we are fully aware of the outcome. Ultimately the movie is ambiguous about the final moments of Earhart’s life but instead bases what it does show us on the facts that are known about the event finally focusing on Putnam’s devastation at the realization that his love is gone.
Swank is at home in this role, one that seems almost tailor made for the actress. She exudes a confidence and semi-cockiness that fits Earhart’s personality perfectly. Swank finds the right blend of spunk and Katharine Hepburn to make Amelia come alive. Swank is absolutely worthy of an Oscar Nomination and in fact this may be one of her best roles to date. She’s more equipped as an actress to play this role now then she would have been earlier in her career and it shows in the actresses commanding performance. But the real breakout performance in this film is Richard Gere who may give the best performance of his career as Amelia’s lover. Gere is one of our finest actors yet often is over looked by his peers. Hopefully that will change this awards season, as the actor definitely deserves a nomination for this role. There are moments in the film where Gere is able to relate a thought or feeling to the audience without saying a word, only giving a nod or a look, in my opinion that is what some of the best kind of acting is made of.
Finally, the film’s only week point might come from the use of flashbacks. Although it initially works, the jumping back and forth does become confusing at times and often leaves the audience wondering where they are in the story. Ultimately this doesn’t distract from the pacing of the film nor do some of the less than spectacular special effects. Both the script by Ronald Bass and the direction of Mira Nair leave something to be desired but the outstanding acting more than makes up for it and keeps your attention throughout. In the end, “Amelia” is a sweeping, moving film that tells the story of an amazing woman and allows the audience to go along for the ride on her famous journeys but it is the love story between the two main characters and the remarkable dance that the lead actors do together that makes this film one that you won’t want to miss and hopefully will not be forgotten this Oscar Season.