(out of 5)
Absorbing biopic of famed aviation legend Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) that improves greatly on the TV movie The Final Flight starring Diane Keaton. Director Mira Nair wisely touches on aspects of Earhart’s biography without going into unnecessary detail as she covers the period from the relationship between her subject and George Putnam (Richard Gere), her publisher, promoter and husband, through to her final aviation project which, as far as we know, claimed her life. Earhart made headlines when, after already having made a name for herself as a “lady pilot”, she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic as an airline passenger. The book she published as a result of this voyage made her quite famous, but she was not in any way satisfied with the passive distinction of this accomplishment and went on to successfully fly solo across the same ocean. Meanwhile, at home, her relationship with Putnam was taking a back seat to the passion she had with Gene Vidal (father of Gore, played by Ewan McGregor), who seems to be the one man who really sees into her motivation and understands what makes her tick. As is commonly known, Earhart’s grand achievement was her round-the-world voyage, flying a Lockheed Electra around the Earth’s equator with Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) as her navigator. She made it almost to the end of her trip before vanishing into the Pacific and was never heard from again, an enigmatic disappearance that has continued to fascinate and enchant to this very day. Nair has not broken the mould on biographical films, nor has she reinvented period films either (though it should be noted that the 30s are brought to life with exceptional beauty here), but she does do something quite extraordinary with this project: she gives her audience a sense of wonder about flying, which in the modern era of angry flight delays and frustrations over airline services seems just about impossible. Everything to do with the nitty gritty details of piloting is so vivid and fascinating, conveyed with such a rich sense of danger and risk, that it more than makes up for the lack of emotional passion in the film’s onscreen relationships. Swank is particularly good whenever she is called upon to channel Earhart’s career enthusiasm, her performance steadily reliable throughout.
Fox Searchlight Pictures, Avalon Pictures, AE Electra Productions
Directed by Mira Nair
Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh
Music by Gabriel Yared
Production Design by Stephanie Carroll
Costume Design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone