Time Out New York Project: Issue #734, October 22-28, 2009
Dir. Mira Nair. 2009. PG. 111mins. Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor.
Amelia it is called and Amelia—Earhart, that is—ye shall receive. Executive producer and star Hilary Swank attempts to gild her Oscar lily with this colorfully hollow biopic about America’s beloved aviatrix, who vanished over the Pacific Ocean while circumnavigating the globe. Told in final-flight flashback (naturally) with cumulus cloud scene wipes (of course!), Earhart’s life is reduced to a series of solemnized wide-screen tableaux populated by locale-specific extras acting as star-struck filler.
There’s nothing more boring than a life embalmed with half-hearted Hollywood bombast, which only makes the film’s fleeting pleasures stand out all the more. Most enjoyable is Earhart’s dashing paramour Gene Vidal (the equally dashing McGregor), who puts a dent in the flyer’s relationship with her publishing-magnate husband George Putnam (Gere). And Vidal’s son—some kid named Gore—makes one of those gleefully ridiculous we-all-know-where-this-one-ends-up cameos, begging for Amelia to be his bigamous surrogate mommy.
Swank is an excellent physical match for Earhart, though she always seems like she’s playing period-drag dress-up as opposed to inhabiting a character. Her romantic scenes with Gere are bloodless, her trysts with McGregor (despite his swoon-inducing baby blues) even more so. But platonic sparks fly between her and Christopher Eccleston, who plays Earhart’s ill-fated navigator, Fred Noonan, with aggressively bloodshot gravitas.
There are also some bizarre yet welcome camp aspects to Swank’s performance, as when she lands her aircraft after a lengthy flight and greets an Irish rancher’s flock with a toothily ecstatic, “Hello, sheep!” It’s not quite up to Susan Hayward bellowing “I want to live!,” but at least it lightens the prestige-minded mood.—Keith Uhlich