Amelia Earhart’s story is moving and powerful. She was without a doubt the most celebrated woman of her generation, and she was a self-possessed, confident feminist—I know this because in one scene she wears a necktie. Well, there are other reasons too. I guess the point I am trying to make is that with a story like Earhart’s, you’d really have to work hard to screw it up. Factor in the talent—Juggernaut Hilary Swank in the title role, supported by Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor—and you’d almost have to try to screw it up…what are the odds?
The film begins with Amelia (Swank) about to take off on her final, ill-fated voyage. She is smiling for the cameras and declaring her passion for flying. We then immediately flash back to the beginning of her ‘career'—I use quotes because she does almost anything she can to finance her feats—when she is sitting in the office of her publicist (manager? agent?) George Putnam. Putnam explains that he wants her to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Of course, in Putnam’s ad-man style that means sitting in a passenger seat while two men fly and navigate. As we all know, she later redeems herself.
The scenes in the film where Amelia is flying are breathtaking and heart-racing. The cinematography is spectacular. Where this film goes wrong is on solid ground. Swank and Gere both adopt a forced, ‘1930s’ speech pattern that makes them sound like extras in a James Cagney movie. Moreover, when their relationship turns romantic, it is hard to believe this guileless crusader would pair with such a shameless profiteer. Seasoned director Mira Nair goes way off the rails in almost every way—from the lack of chemistry in Earhart and Putnam’s seeming relationship of convenience to the final heart-wrenching mystery of Amelia’s disappearance. It’s a shame, really. It's a 5.