'Amelia' Soars, But What a Boring Flight

Directed by: Mira Nair, Runtime: 111 minutes
Grade: C

Mira Nair's Amelia mirrors the experience of watching sumptuously-shot re-enactments of Amelia Earhart's newsreels, packed with plenty of ogle-worthy airplane shots captured in the director's organic visual style. Since there's a lot of passion in her story -- both in relationship form with her PR head/husband and in her drive as a woman for aeronautics -- the Namesake and Monsoon Wedding director would assumedly be a great fit for telling Earhart's story, especially considering her assertion of controlled yet powerful women in her films. Her affection for the female rights icon, however, might have weighed down the picture to little more than a point-by-point checklist of her activities, soaring high in design and accuracy but running out of juice as it approaches any form of emotional connection.

But exactly how much deep emotional connection do we really need to identify with Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank)? After all, she wasn't an overly complex woman rich with layers of influence, though her history with her father -- somewhat unaddressed in Amelia -- could've had a hand in shaping her desires. She was, quite simply, a girl who grew up with ambition and a love for aviation into a woman who made it happen, which sparked her life of navigational pursuits. It's in her unswerving drive to accomplish all that she could, in doing the thing that she loved, that made her a pioneer both for women and for anyone with a drive to succeed. Her story, filled with trips across the Atlantic Ocean in '28 and, later, her mysteriously unsuccessful flight around the globe in '37, inspires because of her affection and determination for her calling -- flying -- while molding her affairs with her husband (Richard Gere), close friend and supporter Gene (Ewan McGregor), and her sponsors / advertisers around it.

Mira Nair realizes this and crafts a film out of Amelia that allows the woman's achievements and signature simple, slightly cheeky charm to speak for themselves -- yet there's something missing because of her direction. We're taken step-by-step throughout Earhart's history, with discreet timecards indicating the time, date, and location of every event, but the historical accuracy is swarmed by an overwhelming sense that this telling is lacking a core purpose beyond what you'd see just by watching the black and white Fox Metronome newsreels. What's lost is emotion, a sense of provoking our sense of inspiration from her triumphs. Each one is chronicled with tightly-crafted, researched precision, yet the expansive and slightly indulgent way that they're welded together and the coasting rhythm of Nair's direction don't sync with these historical accounts.

The fault can't really be placed with Hillary Swank either, because her depiction of Amelia Earhart is spot-on. Swank's a chameleon, a conclusion anyone can come to after watching Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, but her talents are really put to the test here. Make-up gives her the speckled visage of the iconic woman and a tightly-cropped hairdo -- which changes as her confidence ebbs and flows -- create a look that's hitting a nail on the head. Yet it's in Swank's controlled laughs and downtone demeanor that lands an accuracy about her portrayal. It makes the facially-emotionless Richard Gere as husband George Putman and miscast Ewan McGregor as Gene Vidal mold around her to a degree that's still earnest, mostly because of their characters' gravity to her passion.

At least director Nair makes the most of her thorough research within the visual design of the '20s-'30s vintage essence, achieved with gusto by her regular production design team and entrancing cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. Efforts were put into place to obtain an original Electra for Amelia, the plane with which Earhart was lost in over the Atlantic; the presence of this beautiful craft in its shots remain mesmerizing throughout, projecting '30s deco majesty. The rest of the planes are a mish-mash of real aircraft frameworks and filmmaking slickness, recreating the "Friendship" that Earhart flew in across the seas to set her original groundbreaking transatlantic journey in 1927. It's all captured by Nair through Drybrough's lush lens, which proves to a sublime marriage due to their similarly organic style. Their work here reminds one a great deal of Dryburgh's cinematography in The Painted Veil, with warm yet accurate palettes and a fixation on emerald greens.

Still, Mira Nair's well-thought construction of a biopic about a robust historical figure can't rescue Amelia from its primary issue: it's a chore to barrel through due to decadent expanses and an overwrought editing style, which seems to extend this unemotional journey a great deal longer than its actual runtime. Within this vision, we're witnessing an exciting story of triumph that's tiring on the patience, almost hampered because of its actual beauty within its cinematic beauty. An appropriate portrait of Amelia Earhart's life and events stretches out on-screen, including a sumptuous and moody depiction of her circumnavigation of the globe with Christopher Eccleston as her route-finder, but it's all for naught when the precision's lost in a style of storytelling that's, for lack of better words, a bore. Beautiful and accurate, but tiresome.


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