Fox // 2009 // 110 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 11th, 2010
Defying the impossible. Living the dream.
"Everything I do...I do it so I can keep flying."
Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby) wants nothing more than to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Alas, it's the 1920s, which means that due to a combination of sexism and early-model airplane equipment no woman has ever flown across the Atlantic successfully. That doesn't stop Amelia from wanting to try. With the aide of publicist George Putnam (Richard Gere, Unfaithful), Earhart does indeed become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic...but as a passenger, not as a pilot. Aiming to live up to her newfound fame as a pioneer in the world of aviation, Earhart sets her sights on bigger goals: flying across the Atlantic by herself, and then flying around the entire world.
Mira Nair's Amelia debuted in theaters to rather poor reviews, almost instantly killing the award season buzz that had been building up around the film prior to its release. Many critics made the usual complaint that a documentary about the same subject would have been more interesting than the biopic; that it was too dull, too slow, too lifeless, too staged and too typical. While it's easy to see where such complaints are coming from, I have to confess that I found Amelia to be a perfectly engaging period drama that gets the job done with professionalism and grace.
Though a biopic's job is traditionally to give us some measure of insight into its lead character, Amelia actually works better as an examination of an era than of Ms. Earhart. Nair does a nice job of capturing the patronizing attitude society had towards high-achieving women of the time, with condescending nicknames like "Lady Lindburgh" being applied to Earhart. Early on, there's also talk of attempting to fool the public into believing that Earhart flew a plane across the Atlantic by actually having a man do the job and then letting Earhart take credit. The manner in which Nair quietly accentuates these elements brings great meaning to Earhart's achievements. Later, there's a particularly nice scene that Earhart shares with another woman who achieved a lot without getting enough credit: Eleanor Roosevelt (well-played by Cherry Jones, 24).
Nair also excels in her depiction of Amelia's passion for flying, externalized in lovely, ultra-cinematic sequences in which the pilot soars across the world to the strains of a lovely Gabriel Yared score. Granted, these scenes may be little more than eye candy in and of themselves, but I feel they do a nice job of really helping viewers feel the protagonist's passion within the context of the film. These scenes serve as extended pauses of sorts between the action; setting the pace at a decidedly contemplative level.
Performances are solid throughout, anchored by Swank's impressively immersive turn as the title character. While perhaps not up to the standard of the actress's finest work, it's a persuasive performance that benefits a great deal from Swank's uncanny resemblance to Earhart. Richard Gere is appealingly sensitive as the initially opportunistic George, whose tender affection for Amelia quickly begins to overwhelm more superficial concerns. Pros like Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) and Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) plus talented newcomers like Joe Anderson (Across the Universe) and Mia Wasikowska (In Treatment) all do good work, but none of them are given more than a small handful of scenes to work with.
The film benefits from a very respectable Blu-ray transfer that really accentuates what a visually appealing movie this is. The aforementioned flying sequences benefit the most, with footage that rivals some of the better HD nature documentaries that have been released in hi-def. Elsewhere, the image is crisp and clean, benefiting from excellent detail and flat-out masterful shading. Blacks are nice and deep and the warm color palette just leaps off the screen. The audio is strong too, though only a small handful of sequences really manage to rattle the speakers (particularly a nasty crash that occurs during the latter half of the film). I was sort of surprised by how dialed-down the sweeping orchestral music is; it's clear but not as dynamic as it could have been. Supplements are limited to some pretty standard-issue items: "Making Amelia" (23 minutes), "The Power of Amelia Earhart" (10 minutes), "The Plane Behind the Legend" (4 minutes), "Re-Constructing the Planes of Amelia" (6 minutes), a handful of old Movietone newsreels (6 minutes), 13 minutes of deleted scenes and a digital copy.
Convincing as Swank is in the film, she and Nair never really manage to tell us anything particularly revealing about Amelia Earhart. In a way, it's easy to feel detached from the movie, almost as if you're watching a re-enactment rather than witnessing a real event happening (which you are, obviously, but it shouldn't feel that way). In addition, the movie's final third drags on far too long in a far too unconvincing manner, unsuccessfully attempting to milk the inevitable melodrama of Earhart's disappearance and transform it into a tragic romance ala Titanic. To say that it doesn't work is being kind.
A great Amelia Earhart film remains to be made, but in the meantime Amelia serves as a perfectly adequate placeholder. The movie doesn't quite soar, but it's a pleasant enough watch. The Blu-ray looks lovely, too. Mildly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy