Mira Nair’s “Amelia” biopic has a whole lot of style and grandeur, but little substance or insight into the famed aviator’s life. This is especially disappointing when you have a historic figure that still captivates seventy years after her mysterious disappearance. Hilary Swank is satisfactory as Amelia Earhart, making the most of her largely subpar dialogue. The story ignores her youth completely and picks up her life just before her first transatlantic flight. She meets George Putnam (Richard Gere), the publisher and publicity impresario she would later marry. The only other character of merit in the film is Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), a confidant of Amelia Earhart who became her lover as their friendship grew.
I honestly didn’t learn anything new about Amelia Earhart from watching this film. I walked in knowing she was the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic. She was married to a famous publisher, had a long-term affair, and vanished while attempting to fly around the world. This movie doesn’t tell you why she started flying or who taught her. It doesn’t elaborate whatsoever on her open marriage. It really leaves you with nothing except that Amelia liked to fly. It boggles my mind that this script is so thin on background. Here you have a woman who is spectacularly different from anyone else of her era, and this is the best we can get? What’s stranger is that the script by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan is based on two different biographies of Amelia Earhart. It’s pretty sad to have such a hollow film when I’m sure those two books are jam packed with details.
What the film lacks in character depth, it mildly makes up in costume design and cinematography. The characters look fantastic. Kasia Walicka-Maimone will surely receive an Oscar nomination for her work here. Hilary Swank is the carbon copy of Amelia Earhart, right down to her scarves and trousers. The flight scenes are beautifully photographed, especially at night. Stuart Drybough, the cinematographer, shoots the plane in marked contrast to the background. He captures the splendour of aviation with a poet’s eye.
Mira Nair confounds me as a director. She has magnificent vision. Her films look great, but this specificity for visual detail does not always carry over to character development. I think this issue comes to the forefront when she is dealing with A-list talent. For example, her indie films like Kama Sutra, The Perez Family, and The Namesake are solid in all aspects. But her Hollywood films, like Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon, Hysterical Blindness with Uma Thurman, and Amelia with Hilary Swank all suffer from a distinct lack of exposition. It may be that she allows free reign with the established talent. This is a big mistake, even more egregious when you have a weak script like Amelia. It’s a shame that we get so little from such a talented cast.
Apart from the costume design, Amelia does not deserve any award buzz at all. It is a rote telling of an extraordinary individual. Hilary Swank is a tremendous actress and should have been given more to do. I’m not sure if Mira Nair deserves all the blame, as Swank gets a producer credit. Who knows? Maybe Fox did not give Mira Nair final cut on the film, but I doubt it. Amelia Earhart deserved a better effort than this one.