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Even Hilary Swank can't make "Amelia" take flight - On the Silver Screen

By NATALIE BERKMAN | November 4, 2009

Mira Nair's new film "Amelia," starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as the titular and famed aviator, opened merely a week after Discovery News reported that the remains of Amelia Earhart have most likely been found on an uninhabited island in the southwestern Pacific called Nikumaroro.

Supposedly, they found a partial skeleton of a tall woman of European descent. Along with the crab-dissembled skeleton, they found a woman's shoe and a sextant box that seems to have belonged to her navigator on Earhart's around-the-world flight. Even now, more than 70 years since Earhart disappeared, the American public cannot seem to get enough of the mystery surrounding her disappearance. Nair's film is additional proof of this fixation.

"Amelia" will certainly amuse the general public and portray her failed undertaking of a flight around the world in a much more dramatic light than Discovery News - it seems much more fitting for "Amelia" to end with Earhart in flight. However, this movie and the way it is presented is an gimmick designed for an Oscar win and not as a true testament to its inspiration.

The story in "Amelia" is told through flashbacks. It begins with Amelia Earhart's (Hillary Swank) take-off for her voyage around the world. A reporter asks her if this will be her last trip, and she says she will never stop flying. Then, there is a flashback to when Earhart initially walked into George Putnam's (Richard Gere) office looking to be the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic.

They flash between these two scenes, repeating this seemingly pointless gesture until Earhart is actually on the final flight. Ultimately, the flashback gesture made the movie seem impressive initially, but quickly became tiresome, as did Earhart narration of her own life.

Swank's haircut, the clothes, the makeup, and her mannerisms were all very convincing. Richard Gere was, as usual, very likeable. As the two major characters from the beginning, then eventually husband and wife, they dominated the screen in a charismatic way.

The rest of the cast was pushed to the side as these two big names carried the movie. Ewan McGregor plays Gene Vidal, a quick secondary love interest, and there are other characters, but the amount of screen time devoted to the rest of the cast is minimal at best.

The movie is about Earhart, though, so it is only fitting that Swank should be on the screen for 90 percent of the movie. However, the story of Amelia Earhart must be more complicated than it was portrayed. They zoom through her story (in an awkward way because of the flash-forward episodes to the final flight) from the time she was interviewed for the position of the first female passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight in 1928.

Then they speed through her marriage and finally spent a short amount of time at the end explaining contributing factors to her final failure in 1937. Thus, in less than two hours, they race through almost ten years of an obviously complicated life. While a picture is painted, the details are not entirely clear.

From the portrayal of Earhart's marriage, it is evident that this woman had some incredibly liberal views for her era, but exactly what those views were is hard to tell from the movie. Through the combination of these views and her daredevil attempts at arduous flights, her true relationship with her husband is also almost impossible to understand in the context of the film.Secondary characters have unfinished stories within the Swank/Gere monopoly on the movie.

For example, Elinor Smith (Mia Wasikowska), another young female pilot in the movie, whose progression from one point to the next is not necessary in a movie devoted almost exclusively to Earhart, and the second scene seemed out of nowhere.

Overall, it is interesting to note that America's obsession with Amelia Earhart is alive and well. Hers is an interesting story, and this movie is a decent introduction to her life.

Hilary Swank's performance and the mystery of Earhart's actual life make for a moderately enjoyable and informative two hours. Hopefully the grandiose nature of the film will make up for the depressing ending of Earhart's actual life.

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