Fighting gravity 


*Amelia (PG)

Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Kimball's Peak Three, Tinseltown

"Flying lets me move in three dimensions," she says early on. Well, so does standing on an escalator and scooching over to get out of someone else's way. But flying is supposed to be more exciting than standing on an escalator and scooching over to get out of someone else's way. So it's strange that first few stolid scenes of Amelia suggest otherwise.

She was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and later vanished from the Earth while endeavoring to be the first to fly entirely around it. Any movie about Amelia Earhart's life has a sort of public obligation to soar. Yet this one, in the beginning, at least, feels much more like being on that escalator, going down.

Director Mira Nair's steadily reverential biopic, with Hilary Swank in the title role, apparently seeks only to maintain a popular appreciation, and gently transfer it from one generation to the next. Sticking to the period of the middle 1930s, during which Earhart became a celebrity, it doesn't have much to add to the lore. But by necessity of movie convention, it does have much to subtract from the actual life.

Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan's script is said to derive from not one but two Earhart biographies (Susan Butler's East to the Dawn and Mary S. Lovell's The Sound of Wings), but such authorial thoroughness doesn't do much more for the movie than making it seem sometimes like a book report. We're allowed the framework of a few proverbial plot points, such as her courtship with publisher and promoter George Putnam (played by Richard Gere), her uneasiness with the endorsement deals that subsidized her adventures, and of course the various challenges of the flights themselves.

In one revealing scene, the young son (played by William Cuddy) of an airline-industry pioneer (played by Ewan McGregor) finds himself frightened by a room decorated with exaggerated jungle imagery, including many malevolently predatory animals. Earhart reassures the boy that she decorated the room that way on purpose, in order to confront her own fear.

Where and when this fear originated, or why and how it occurred to her to confront it with freaky wallpaper, is not information we are meant to know. But the boy is Gore Vidal, whose pugnacity later in life we are meant to know, and to credit at least in part to Earhart's influence.

The Earhart of Amelia is fully formed as a role model from the very first moment, and so she remains all the way through to the end (and beyond). All the film really does, dramatically, is observe and endorse her gracious resistance to being thwarted. It almost could get by as just a poster portrait alone.

But then we'd miss out on a warm and winning and cleverly recessive performance from Swank, who manages to dispense advice like "Don't let anyone turn you around" without a trace of stridency, and to seem birdlike as much for her delicacy as for her acclimation to an airborne life. She moves very comfortably in three dimensions.


Film Details

Rated PG · 120 min. · 2009
Official Site: www.foxsearchlight.com/amelia
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: Ronald Bass
Producer: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Kevin Hyman and Ted Waitt
Cast: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Mia Wasikowska, Christopher Eccleston, Virginia Madsen, Joe Anderson, Aaron Abrams, Marina Stone and Duane Murray


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