You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


To say that "Amelia" never gets off the ground would be an understatement.

Amelia Earhart - Hilary Swank George Putnam - Richard Gere Gene Vidal - Ewan McGregor Fred Noonan - Christopher Eccleston Bill - Joe Anderson Eleanor Roosevelt - Cherry Jones Elinor Smith - Mia Wasikowska Gore Vidal - William Cuddy

To say that “Amelia” never gets off the ground would be an understatement; it barely makes it out of the hangar. Handsomely mounted yet dismayingly superficial, Mira Nair’s film offers snazzy aerial photography and inspirational platitudes in lieu of insight into Amelia Earhart’s storied life and high-flying career. Prestigious packaging, led by Hilary Swank’s gussied-up performance as the iconic aviatrix, portends friendly commercial skies for the Fox Searchlight release, at least initially. But critical disdain is unlikely to be countered by much audience enthusiasm, even among admirers of this kind of old-fashioned, star-powered bio-mush.

Condensed by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan from two hefty biographies (Susan Butler’s “East to the Dawn” and Mary S. Lovell’s “The Sound of Wings”), the 111-minute film unavoidably leaves out enough particulars to bug Earhart experts. But omission matters less than interpretation, and what rankles most about “Amelia” is the timidity and lack of imagination with which Nair approaches one of America’s most exceptional and intriguing celebrity life stories.

Popular on Variety

In focusing on the decade between Earhart’s first taste of fame in 1928 and her 1937 disappearance over the South Pacific during an attempt to fly around the world, Nair frames the drama as the tale of a woman who chafed against gender barriers in pursuit of big dreams, and inspired others to do the same. The theme is apparent from the moment Amelia, an eager if inexperienced pilot, meets George Putnam (Richard Gere), the New York publisher who made Charles Lindbergh a bestselling author and hopes to work similar wonders with a femme flyer.

While George warns Amelia not to set her sights too high, her pluck and resolve are such that she becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, albeit as a passenger, making her an instant superstar (“Lady Lindy”). A few listless flashing-headline montages illustrate Amelia’s rise to stardom on the lecture circuit and in advertising, which help fund her very expensive first love, flying.

Her second love is George, whose marriage proposal she accepts after some resistance. But their union is strained by Amelia’s restlessness, her unhappiness with the distractions of fundraising, and most of all by her growing fondness for pilot and aeronautics professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the father of a very young Gore Vidal (William Cuddy, winning).

Apart from one stolen kiss, the film tiptoes around Butler’s assertion that Amelia and Gene were lovers, lest Amelia become too flawed (and thus too interesting) a heroine. But due to the writing and direction of Amelia’s romantic interludes with either George or Gene, the half-formed love triangle never seems in danger of catching fire anyway. Not helping matters is the image of Gere playing yet another older man opposite a younger woman (a shot of Amelia and George on the beach looks like something out of “Nights in Rodanthe”).

But it’s Swank who must shoulder the heaviest thesping burden, and her Amelia remains earthbound. An actress who does her best work in plain-spoken, contempo working-class roles, Swank is a decent physical match for her subject, and her slightly androgynous appearance here underscores Earhart’s standing as a woman among men. But the character’s passion hasn’t been sufficiently dramatized (this Amelia likes to fly planes because the script says so), and every effort to transform Swank — the close-cropped blonde hair, the ’30s costumes designed by Kasia Walicka Maimone, the actress’ wobbly Kansas accent — ends up feeling like one fussy affectation on top of another.

Similarly, Nair, who has made fine films (“Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake”) that stayed close to her Indian roots, seems completely beholden to biopic formulas here. Slathered in banal voiceover narration and Gabriel Yared’s hyperactive score, the pic gets a lot of mileage out of Stuart Dryburgh’s f/x-enhanced aerial lensing (largely captured over South Africa). But the footage is postcard-pretty without being psychologically revealing; Imax documentaries and theme-park attractions offer comparable pleasures at a fraction of the length. Intermittent black-and-white newsreel footage of Earhart adds some interest but also feels like a nervous bid for authenticity.

Amelia’s final flight (snippets of which are intercut with the narrative proper) is handled with tasteful directness, steering clear of the conspiracy theories that have dogged Earhart’s legend. But “Amelia” seems uninterested in mining any fresh meaning or mystery from its subject’s fate — which, though tragic, was also instructive, an American spin on the Icarus myth — and the buoyant, follow-your-dreams note struck at the end only trivializes it.

As Fred Noonan, the often-soused but skillful navigator who vanished along with Earhart, Christopher Eccleston strikes up a prickly chemistry with Swank, while Cherry Jones has her moment in the cockpit as a besotted Eleanor Roosevelt. Excellent period design boasts gleaming re-creations of vintage aircraft, including the twin-engine Lockheed L-10 Electra that Earhart flew to the uncertain end.


Production: A Fox Searchlight release of a Fox Searchlight and Avalon Pictures presentation. Produced by Ted Waitt, Kevin Hyman, Lydia Dean Pilcher. Executive producers, Ron Bass, Hilary Swank. Co-producer, Don Carmody. Directed by Mira Nair. Screenplay, Ron Bass, Anna Hamilton Phelan, based on the books "East to the Dawn" by Susan Butler and "The Sound of Wings" by Mary S. Lovell.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color/B&W archival, Panavision widescreen), Stuart Dryburgh; editors, Allyson C. Johnson, Lee Percy; music, Gabriel Yared; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Stephanie Carroll; art director, Nigel Churcher; set decorator, Gordon Sim; costume designer, Kasia Walicka Maimone; sound (Dolby Digital), Drew Kunin; supervising sound editor, Dave Paterson; re-recording mixers, Dominick Tavella, Dave Paterson, Michael Barry; visual effects, Mr. X; stunt coordinator, Steve Lucescu; line producer, Genevieve Hofmeyr; assistant director, Walter Gasparovic; second unit directors, Spiro Razatos, Marc Wolff, Miles Goodall; second unit camera, Jacques Haitkin; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at Fox Studios, Los Angeles, Oct. 16, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Amelia Earhart - Hilary Swank George Putnam - Richard Gere Gene Vidal - Ewan McGregor Fred Noonan - Christopher Eccleston Bill - Joe Anderson Eleanor Roosevelt - Cherry Jones Elinor Smith - Mia Wasikowska Gore Vidal - William Cuddy

More Film

  • 'Free Guy' Trailer: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie

    'Free Guy': Ryan Reynolds, Taika Waititi, Jodie Comer Star in First Trailer

    The first trailer for Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy” premiered Saturday at the CCXP convention in Brazil. Reynolds stars as Guy, a bank teller and NPC (non-playable character) who discovers he’s living in a video game. In the trailer, hostage situations, buildings being blown up and people shooting guns off in the street is depicted as [...]


    Asier Altuna Preps Basque Historical Drama ‘Karmele the Hour of Waking Together’

    Basque cinema is booming, and director Asier Altuna is part of the vanguard leading it forward. The Spanish filmmaker, behind 2005 Youth Award winner “Aupa Etxebeste!” and 2015 Best Basque Film “Amama” at the San Sebastián Intl. Film Festival, attended this year’s Ventana Sur Proyecta sidebar with his next project, “Karmele, the Hour of Waking [...]

  • The Day is Long and Dark

    Francisco Barreiro Cast in Upcoming Julio Hernández Cordón Project (EXCLUSIVE)

    Julio Hernández Cordón, one of Mexico’s most-awarded independent filmmakers over the last decade, has found the leading man for his next feature “The Day is Long and Dark (My Friends are Vampires),” in Fantastic Fest best actor winner Francisco Barreiro, star of Adrián García Bogliano’s “Here Comes the Devil.”. Barreiro’s casting was shared with Variety from Buenos [...]

  • Macabre

    Rio Fest’s Compact Edition Opens Amidst Sectorial Crisis

    RIO DE JANEIRO  — The 21st Rio Intl. Film Fest opens Monday Dec. 9t with the screening of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” in the Odeon landmark theater. The smaller than usual edition, which was almost cancelled due to the lack of municipal backing, reflects the crisis of Brazil’s film sector, involved in a battle with the administration [...]

  • Papa-YouTuber

    Peru’s ‘Papa YouTuber’ Goes Global (EXCLUSIVE)

    Argentine sales agency FilmSharks Int’l label The Remake Company has sold remake rights at Ventana Sur to Peruvian family comedy hit “Papa YouTuber” (“YouTuber Dad”) to Mexico’s Cinepolis and Italy’s Colorado Films, with several other territories pending. Advanced discussions are underway in Germany, with Spain, France and the U.S. also pending. “The U.S. deal will [...]

  • Elia Suleiman attends the screening of

    'Pleasure Is Extremely Political,' Palestinian Filmmaker Elia Suleiman Says

    In a freewheeling masterclass held at the Marrakech Film Festival on Thursday, director Elia Suleiman offered as concise a mission statement as can be, defining his guiding beliefs in four short words. “Pleasure is extremely political,” said the Palestinian director, whose films have approached the fraught nature of life in the occupied territories with a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content