YOU CAN’T deny that Hilary Swank does look a little like Amelia Earhart. Both actor and aviator have (or had) the same androgynous energy and air of gawky discomfort.
Sadly, Mira Nair, director of Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding, has decided to power her biopic on physical resemblance alone. Setting the controls to industry-standard autopilot – key life moments interspersed with newsreels and contemporaneous pop songs – Nair sends her vehicle puttering pathetically towards middle-brow oblivion.
There is, it hardly needs to be said, an interesting story to be told here. Raised in Kansas around the turn of the 20th century, Earhart somehow (don’t look to the film for answers) became the country’s most distinguished female aviator and an articulate advocate for woman’s rights. Amelia is, however, so underpowered that few viewers hitherto unaware of the subject’s achievements will feel the urge to research further.
Shot in Werther’s Original russet, featuring clothes and props that all seem to have been plucked spotless from the box, this dull film comprises a series of hurried, sketchy incidents, none of which leads convincingly unto the next.
At least two of the breathlessly dismissed subplots – Amelia’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and her closeness to Washington operator Gene Vidal and his young son, Gore – could have formed the basis for cleaner, more digestible films. Instead, the picture wastes time detailing the unlikely romance between Earhart and promoter George Putnam (Richard Gere).
It seems, despite various infidelities, that Earhart and Putnam eventually achieved a kind of contentment in real life. But Hilary Swank and Richard Gere? Emerging from different eras, with wildly different styles, the two actors go together like a palm tree goes with a cement mixer.
They do try hard. Swank flashes that equine smile. Gere, as always, conveys emotion by a nearimperceptible wag of the head. But both must know they are, well, lost at sea.