‘AMELIA’ AIMS AT HEIGHTS

HEAVY THEME A DRAG, BUT SWANK TAKES OFF AS AVI­A­TRIX

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

IF GOOD IN­TEN­TIONS could coun­ter­act grav­ity, “Amelia” would soar. Un­for­tu­nately, this hand­some but some­what leaden pro­duc­tion burns a lot of fuel as it cir­cles the same theme over and over: That Amelia Earhart, the pi­o­neer­ing “avi­a­trix” of the 1920s and ’30s, was not just a hero of the air but one of the orig­i­nal fem­i­nists — an icon­o­clast in jodh­purs and a neck­tie whose ad­dic­tion to the “free­dom” of flight was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of pro­gres­sive wo­mankind’s yearn­ing for in­de­pen­dence from the drag of money-driven, male-dom­i­nated, con­ven­tional so­ci­ety.

“Only I can make a ful­fill­ing life for my­self,” says Earhart; in an­other telling scene, the woman the press dubbed “Lady Lindy” in­ter­rupts her wed­ding to ask the judge to re­move the word

“obey” from her vows. The role must have seemed ir­re­sistible to Hi­lary Swank, al­ready re­warded with two Best Ac­tress Os­cars for play­ing women who in­fil­trate the world of men.

Raw­boned and rangy, Swank — also the film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer — is a sure bet to earn a third Academy Award nom­i­na­tion here; she cer­tainly looks the part of a tomboy­ish Kansas farm girl turned celebrity. But as di­rected by In­dia’s Mira Nair, work­ing from a script adapted from two Earhart bi­ogra­phies, the flyer re­mains a some­what re­mote fig­ure, per­haps nec­es­sar­ily.

“I wanna be free — to be a vagabond of the air,” she as­serts. “No bor­ders ... just hori­zons ... only free­dom.” No won­der she’s a hard char­ac­ter to pin down. Nev­er­the­less, there’s some­thing se­duc­tive about Swank and Nair’s al­most sin­gle-minded re­it­er­a­tion of the idea of free­dom; this is one “epic” Hol­ly­wood biopic that for the most part es­chews the spec­ta­cle of action and crowds for point-of-view shots of clouds and sky — shots that be­come omi­nous dur­ing the por­trayal of Earhart’s ill-fated 1937 at­tempt to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe in a Lock­heed Elec­tra, ac­com­pa­nied only by a nav­i­ga­tor (Christo­pher Ec­cle­ston).

The small but im­por­tant sup­port­ing cast also in­cludes Richard Gere as Earhart’s hus­band, pub­lisher and pro­moter, Ge­orge Put­nam; and Ewan McGre­gor as her lover on the side (in what ap­par­ently was a some­what “open” mar­riage), Gene Vi­dal, fa­ther of au­thor and in­tel­lect Gore Vi­dal (por­trayed as a young boy in the film).

Ken Woroner/Fox Search­light Pic­tures

Joe An­der­son and Hi­lary Swank (as Amelia Earhart) share lofty free­dom in ‘‘Amelia,’’ which presents the famed but ill-fated avi­a­trix as an early fem­i­nist.

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