It is literally painful to sit through a movie as mind-numbingly awful as this. It’s not just the squirming and looking at the watch but movies as bad as this actually produce physical pain while I have to sit and endure them. It takes a special level of talent for director Mira Nair to take the story of Amelia Earhart (Hillary Swank), with a cast of actors some think talented like Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor, and produce something as uninvolving and boring as this.
About all I came out of the screening with was that I had just seen a lot of takeoffs and landings, and almost two hours of smiles and lots of teeth, mostly Swanks’. Gere, in the least effective performance of his career, does nothing but smile his way through this. That’s about all Swank does, too. Swank appears as almost all teeth. This is an unsatisfying, frivolous, insubstantial look at someone who some think of as an American idol. I was terribly disappointed because I was looking forward to it.
Amelia married publisher George Putnam (Gere). She has an affair with Gene Vidal (McGregor), the father of Gore. But Gene appears pretty fey and Amelia never really seems too involved with either of the men.
To say that the script (Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan, indicating problems, based on two biographies, “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “The Sound of Wings” by Mary Lovell) is banal doesn’t do it justice. For the life of me, when it was over, I couldn’t figure out how Nair got 111 minutes out of this script. But there are an awful lot of takeoffs and landings.
There are a lot of things that she could have covered. Amelia’s back-story when she was a nurse during the WWI Great Influenza Epidemic, among many other things, is interesting but totally ignored.
In her 111 minutes, Nair could have covered the issue of whether Amelia was a terrific pilot or just a creation of Putnam’s PR genius, as has been speculated. Nair alludes to it but she never really gets into whether or not Amelia really knew what she was doing in the cockpit, even though we see lots and lots and lots of scenes with her flying.
Despite Amelia’s compelling story, Nair completely fails to capture it or the controversy that surrounds her to this day. Oh, Nair does have Amelia say that her father was the funniest person she ever knew but was a horrible alcoholic who never gave her what she wanted. And she tells Putnam that the reason she always wears pants is because she has ugly legs. Well, gee, I’m glad I know those things.
The film barely gets in to Amelia’s relationship with Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston), the navigator on her ill-fated final flight. Reputed to be the best navigator extant, he was apparently also an alcoholic, like her father, and Amelia apparently had problems with him during the flight. But the film only alludes to that.
The story is made more difficult by the time-warp way it’s told, flashing back and forth between the doomed final flight and Amelia’s recent story (that starts with her flight across the Atlantic in 1928 after a few scenes of her as a child and learning how to fly). It’s often difficult to tell what year it is.
Another factual problem is that the film shows that Amelia’s plane on her final flight couldn’t receive Morse code signals, but the evidence is that the Navy did send Morse code signals to her and she acknowledged receiving them.
That the film looks like something put together by people struggling to know how to make a film is perhaps understandable when one realizes Nair is a foreigner, has never worked with stars of this caliber, and that the producer, Ted Waitt, is an amateur who made his money as co-founder of Gateway, Inc. and is now a major philanthropist but hasn’t even begun to make his bones as a moviemaker. Maybe one of the problems with the film is that Waitt chose someone born and raised in India to tell the story of a uniquely American icon. Nair tries to create an affinity between her and Amelia by saying, “I was born in a small town in India and Amelia was from a small town in Kansas.” What? An American director would have had better sensibilities to American heritage.
The look is good. The cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh) is gorgeous. Vivian Baker, Swank’s makeup artist did an award-deserving job with Swank’s look because she is a dead ringer for Amelia, except for the toothy smile, which eventually becomes annoying.
So, when I left the theater, I asked myself, “What did I just spend almost two hours watching?” Basically, I saw Swank smiling, takeoff, landing, Gere smiling, takeoff, landing, teeth, Swank and Gere smiling, takeoff and landing. This is looped for 111 minutes. Ugh.