The striking physical resemblance is enough justification for Diane Keaton’s portrayal of aviatrix Amelia Earhart in a luxurious production directed by Yves Simoneau. Anna Sandor’s script, based on Doris L. Rich’s 1987 biography, is rather too close at times to becoming a heavy-handed feminist tract when Earhart’s story needs no such punch. Still, it’s a handsome two hours, bringing Earhart back into the public consciousness.
A pioneering female flier, Earhart was promoted into increasing glory by her husband, manager and publicist, the publisher George B. Putnam (Bruce Dern).
Endorsing products including clothing, soap and a line of luggage, the attractive woman became something of a national obsession in the ’30s, even though — as this script would have it — she didn’t think of herself as a particularly able pilot and was, in fact, rather sloppy when it came to preparation and execution.
In 1937, midway through what was to be the first flight to circumvent the world at the equator, the 39-year-old pilot and navigator Fred Noonan (Rutger Hauer) disappeared in Earhart’s Lockheed Electra over the Pacific Ocean.
Movie picks up with Putnam hustling financing for Earhart’s flight and follows through to her death two years later. Trained for the new Electra by pilot Paul Mantz (Paul Guilfoyle), Earhart is forced by circumstance and against her instinct to take on navigator Noonan, an alcoholic. Meanwhile, Putnam generates a continuing stream of hype.
The script subscribes to an unconfirmed rumor that the flight was in part financed by the U.S. government (personified here by Denis Arndt as a shadowy bureaucrat) in exchange for Earhart’s reporting of any suspicious Japanese activity in the South Pacific. But telepic doesn’t venture to hypothesize about Earhart and Noonan’s fate; they simply fly into the sunrise.
Acting, while adequate, takes second place to rich soft-focus cinematography by Lauro Escorel and Bill Malley’s handsome production design. Hardware, including gorgeous Cord roadster and gussied-up 1953 Beechcraft subbing for Earhart’s Electra, adds immensely to pic’s look.
Simoneau and editor Michael Ornstein come up with some nice montages, and George S. Clinton’s evocative score joggles between vintage-sounding society jazz and a bolero for the more serious moments.