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Hilary Swank as Amelia: Weighed down by the icon’s heavy baggage, the actress fails to create a living, breathing character.

2 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Mira Nair
  • Written by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan
  • Starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
  • Classification: PG

Amelia is the Mack truck of flight. Heavy and lumbering, it delivers the goods, but there's not an ounce of magic in the thing. And since the Amelia in question is Earhart the famous aviatrix, let's just say this is a movie with a harmony problem - seldom has a bio's style clashed so deafeningly with its content.

The trouble starts right from takeoff, when the establishing scenes are laden with exposition and leaden with voice-over. "Who wants a life imprisoned in safety?", asserts our pert young pilot in an early frame, only to see the rest of the flick safely pack her life into the imprisoning trailer of that lumbering truck. From there, it heads to the requisite unloading docks where the seminal events, all squeaky clean and bound in bubble wrap, get dropped off for our inspection. I believe we're meant to be inspired. Lest anyone miss that point, the bubble wrap comes with bubble dialogue designed to point us in the right direction, Hallmark offerings like, "Everyone has oceans to fly" and "I want to be free, to be a vagabond of the air." Yes, the compass is always pointing due S for Sententious.

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Unloading dock No. 1 returns us to 1928, when Amelia (Hilary Swank) becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic - alas, only as a passenger, although the script, eager to firm up her feminist credentials, suggests that the dumb-ass guys in the cockpit would have been lost without her. Then, a mere four years later, she cements her legend by making the trip solo. If Mira Nair's direction can be believed, both journeys were plagued by the same heavy weather, as the plucky Amelia battles rain, wind, ice and really lame CGI effects. Even the aerial shots, which typically guarantee grandeur, are lacking in aerial beauty here - never has flight seemed so pedestrian.

Ditto for her earthbound doings. Right quick, she falls for George Putnam (Richard Gere), an early PR maestro who wins her heart while honing her image ("Lady Lindy, that's what they'll call you"). Of course, being a feminist icon, Amelia must make the first move, stopping by his hotel room in her sexy silk PJs. And when wedding bells ring, she insists on drafting a prenup that, with her characteristic Hallmark flourish, gives him fair warning: "I can't endure the confinement of even an attractive cage."

Duly foreshadowed, enter the love triangle - a short-lived and soon-disabused fling with the handsome Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), who happens to be the daddy of that writerly Vidal, then just a child. Indeed, at one delicious point, Amelia is seen instructing little Gore on how to overcome his fears - a lesson big Gore would learn rather too well. Elsewhere on the triangulated map, Eleanor Roosevelt makes an appearance, whereupon the two first ladies share an excited night together - aloft in a plane. Whether this literal trip has any metaphoric connotation is left, well, up in the air.

Swank, who's usually at her Oscar-best playing doomed figures, is doomed herself here. Labouring under the burden of all that carry-on luggage - Amelia the pioneer, the adventurer, the feminist, the lover, the aphorist - she has neither the time nor the strength to create an actual living/breathing character. Instead, sporting a blond bob and a connect-the-dot set of painted freckles, Swank settles for looking the part.

As for sounding the part, that's a whole other issue. Much like the icon's last fateful flight, her accent is damned hard to locate. Just a guess, but I'd put it in a holding pattern somewhere between Kansas and Kate Hepburn.

Speaking of that tragic final flight, her foreshortened attempt to circumnavigate the globe, it struck me as the best sequence in the movie. Then again, it also struck me as a sure sign that both movie and heroine were approaching their end. Either way, one thing is certain: Nothing becomes Amelia like its imminent departure.

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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