The true story of Amelia Earhart is certainly the kind of inspirational tale worthy of a grand Hollywood biopic. In 1928, she accompanied pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon in their flight across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the first woman to successfully complete the journey. However, her personal pride and desire for adventure was unquenched and she determined to repeat the journey on her own.
With the help of promoter and future husband George Putnam (Richard Gere), Earhart (portrayed here by Hilary Swank) wrote best-selling books detailing her airborne adventures, signed numerous endorsements and advertising deals to fund giant leaps in the advancement of female aeronautics, and indeed feminism. She founded the Ninety-Nines, an organisation for female pilots that still exists today and, in 1932, achieved her goal of becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
On paper at least, Amelia is a project that should write itself: the story of a courageous, hotheaded woman with a blinkered desire for adventure, brimming with romance, controversy and a famously tragic and mysterious finale. Hilary Swank not only bears an uncanny physical resemblance to the one-time “most famous woman in America”, but with two Academy Awards under her belt at the tender age of just 35, she can be relied upon to put in a passable performance. This she does rather admirably, but where the film comes undone is in the lack of development and exploration of the characters. As if the script was written using only information found on Wikipedia, Amelia frequently skates over hugely important and influential moments in her life, in favour of simply documenting her major achievements as an aviatrix.
Director Mira Nair is best-known for her films Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair, which depict strong female characters fighting for their place in male-dominated society. Here she creates an elegant Sunday matinee that captures something of the excitement and danger of the early years of flying, while understanding Amelia’s need to escape the trappings of her life. That said, little is gleaned about Earhart’s bizarre marriage to Putnam, or her affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), a tumultuous chapter barely acknowledged save for a few flirtatious conversations and a single hotel room visit.
After spending two hours in the company of this obviously intelligent and domineering personality, the audience comes away from Amelia knowing precious little more about her than when they went in. Earhart remains as enigmatic as ever, refusing to be bound by commitment, gravity or even her own life story. The overwhelming sentiment is that she has alluded us all once again, escaping into the heavens, determined to remain an enigma forever.