Seventy years after her disappearance somewhere east of New Guinea in the closing lap of her attempted circumnavigation of the globe, Amelia Earhart remains a figure of fascination. A pioneer aviator, she found fame as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, and solidified that fame with a series of books and further aviation firsts. Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank is perfectly cast as Earhart. With her lanky frame and freckles, all it takes is a pair of leather flying goggles for her to be a dead-ringer for the Aviatrix. Swank does a marvellous job here, channelling a little bit of Kathryn Hepburn as the straight-talking adventure seeker.
The screenplay by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan (based on two Earhart biographies) begins with Amelia’s first Atlantic crossing. We learn nothing about her childhood, and while Hank makes her a fascinating study, we uncover little about what drives her. Rather, between long and admittedly thrilling flying scenes, their screenplay is much focused on the love triangle between Amelia, husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) and family friend Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor).
Book publisher Putnam had just made a killing with Charles Lindberg’s biography and Earhart was another paycheque to him, until her natural charm won him over. Gere gives a warm performance, though it isn’t much of a stretch, and the dynamic between Putnam and Earhart, who refused to let marriage restrain her ambition, is the meat to this film.
Ewan McGregor’s Gene Vidal (Gore’s dad) is supposed to have a raw sexual relationship with Amelia, and I can’t decide whether to blame the editors or the bad direction they had to work from, but the scenes between Swank and McGregor just completely misfire.
The supporting cast are all good – especially Christopher Eccleston as navigator Fred Noonan, and Cherry Jones as First Lady Elinor Roosevelt, a big Earhart fan. Watch also for local girl Mia Wasikowska as Elinor Smith, a young rival for Amelia’s spotlight.
While some direction is lacking, there is nothing to fault about Nigel Churcher’s art decoration. The Great Depression never looks so lush, a word that is also easily applied to Stuart Dryburgh’s camerawork. His sweeping panoramas of Canada and Cape Town – standing in for Nairobi, Papua New Guinea and Hawaii – deserve to be enjoyed on the big screen.