Considering the risks Amelia Earhart took, losing her life in the call of aviation, Hilary Swank and director Mira Nair don’t put much on the line in their film biography “Amelia.”
Swank and Nair play it safe to the point of benumbing this woman’s life, leaving Earhart as remote and muted as she is in the black-and-white photos and news footage included at the film’s end.
We get the facts of Earhart’s pioneering achievements, her marriage to her promoter (Richard Gere), her fling with a fellow pilot (Ewan McGregor). And we get pretty pictures of airplanes in flight.
But this dowdy movie rarely embodies Earhart’s passions, whether for flying or for the men in her life. Swank’s Earhart repeatedly tells people how she has to fly or die. Yet when she’s in the air, she’s as stiff and closed-off as a passenger stuck in a middle coach seat on a trans-Atlantic flight.
In stumbling, choppy fashion, the movie intercuts between Earhart’s doomed last flight around the world in 1937 and the achievements leading up to it over the previous decade – her Atlantic and Pacific crossings, her mentoring of female flyers, her efforts to establish regional passenger shuttle service.
Lovely aerial images, lush landscapes and rich sets and costumes are the film’s lone strengths. In almost every other regard, “Amelia” veers off course.
A sturdy supporting cast includes Christopher Eccleston, as the navigator who disappeared with Earhart on her final flight over the Pacific, and Cherry Jones, who briefly enlivens the film as Eleanor Roosevelt on a night flight with Earhart.
Then there’s Swank, whose perplexing career has ranged from Oscar-winning performances (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Million Dollar Baby”) to limp followups (“The Core,” “The Affair of the Necklace,” “Freedom Writers,” “P.S. I Love You”).
As Earhart, Swank exposes what could be her prime limitation: She doesn’t have much range. She can tear up the screen in raw street drama such as her two Oscar winners, but she’s miserably out of her skin as the stately Earhart – drab, distant, utterly uninvolving, despite the striking physical resemblance she manages to bear.