"I want to be free -- to be a vagabond of the air," Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) tells her future husband, George Putnam (Richard Gere), when he proposes marriage early on in Mira Nair's Amelia.
Yet there she is, shackled to Earth in this stilted, corny biopic, a movie so generic that, were it not for Earhart's name and history, it could have been about anyone.
Nair is such a distinctive director, whose work is so personal and full of passion, that it's hard not to count her as a victim of this misadventure. Watching Amelia is like sitting through an endless series of story conferences, in which the life is slowly sifted out of the material.
What you end up with is a tale told in broad strokes, akin to the kind of denatured film biographies the studios produced in the 1940s and 1950s. As a historic figure, Earhart comes off as uncomplicated and, frankly, a little dull.
It's as if, once Hilary Swank got her hair cut and lightened and had the faux freckles applied, well, that was the whole character. Her Amelia is a bit of a simp -- she loves to fly because, well, she loves to fly. While screenwriters Ron Bass and Anne Hamilton Phelan include snippets of Earhart's own writing, read in voice-over by Swank, that poetic voice doesn't really inform the performance itself.
What we're left with are a repetitious series of scenes in which Earhart is told how dangerous some flight will be, followed by her triumphantly completing that flight. These are punctuated by her being wooed by Putnam or by aviation pioneer Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), father of Gore Vidal, after she's married Putnam. When she starts sleeping with Vidal, Putnam strongly objects, in a well-mannered sort of way.
There are many aerial shots of clouds, lots of scenic vistas -- but not much in the way of dramatic tension. Or any other kind of tension. Mostly this film glides along on Swank's toothy grin, Gere's squinty smile and the lavish costuming. McGregor seems like someone who, having dropped by the set for a visit, was hustled into a suit and drafted into playing a few scenes.
Amelia Earhart disappeared without a trace in 1937. And so does Mira Nair, who, while Amelia is onscreen, seems barely present in this tedious and clichéd film.
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