Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Amelia Earhart loved freedom so much that she was willing to engage in the riskiest kind of behavior to obtain it: An unprecedented attempt to fly around the world in a smaller aircraft--inclement weather be damned--and on the last leg of her ill-fated journey, without adequate fuel. And because no official trace of her and navigator Fred Noonan was every found, (though in recent years some intriguing finds have rekindled speculation about her ultimate fate) her story has fascinated us for more than seventy years.

Everyone knows of the legend, and any film about Amelia Earhart that would have a chance to hold our interest at this point would necessarily need to focus as much on her personal life as her public persona. And that's what Amelia attempts to do. Oscar winner Hillary Swank, whose features are tailor made for playing masculine looking women--as in Boys Don't Cry, where she convincingly portrays a young girl posing as a young boy, until her duds come off to reveal that WHOA...she's ALL woman---has Amelia's look and accent nailed.

Richard Gere is publisher George Putnam, initially Earhart's P.R. guy, and later her husband, who seems content to be the "wind beneath her wings" and take a back seat to her celebrity. (Gere is  too flashy of a presence to be right for this subdued kind of personality, so he was likely selected for the role just to give the film more star power.) The dramatic tension of Earhart's personal life centers around her affair with eventual TWA founder Gene Vidal, (Ewan McGregor) and whether she will ultimately choose him or stand by her husband.  

Amelia has been knocked for not going into more detail about  Earhart's back story--it stays mainly with her role as a pioneering aviatrix and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic--but it was the thirties, and every intimate detail of a celebrity's life wasn't hashed about in the media as it is today. There was an unwritten journalistic code about staying mum on embarrassing details of our "heroes" lives, which extended through John F. Kennedy's presidency. And so, life being more about the surface image than what's lies beneath it,  Earhart's rumored bisexuality is only hinted at in one line of dialogue, but this seems appropriate given the era in which she lived.

If Amelia Earhart's all consuming free-spiritedness  was the main thing director Mira Nair was trying to capture, she succeeded marvelously. Buoyed by a haunting and memorable score from Gabriel Yared,  the aerial shots--reminiscent of Out of Africa--are stunning.

If  there are tears to be shed viewing Amelia, (and there are) they're more about the awe-inspiring scope of Ms. Earhart's life, rather than her untimely demise.