‘AMELIA’ AIMS AT HEIGHTS
HEAVY THEME A DRAG, BUT SWANK TAKES OFF AS AVIATRIX
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).
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.