Movie Review: AMELIA with Hilary Swank

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Having seen the gorgeous trailer, I attended a screening of this movie expecting to be uplifted and inspired and all those other positive adjectives. Alas, it didn’t quite happen. Though this is not a bad movie by any means, it lacks some of the passion I imagine Amelia Earthart had for flying.

If you’re looking for insight into how she got that passion, you won’t find it here. We’re simply told that Earhart wants to fly so she can be free. From her alcoholic father? A miserable childhood? I don’t know because the film doesn’t address that part of her life, and I haven’t read the books—Susan Butler’s East to the Dawn and Mary S. Lovell’s The Sounds of Wings—on which Amelia is based. But fly Earhart does, in many spectacularly shot sequences that almost made me run out and sign up for flying lessons, forgetting for a moment I have acute acrophobia.

2009_amelia_014The movie does cover her rise to celebrity status and romances with both G.P. Putnam (Richard Gere) and Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), though they’re depicted quite chastely (the Vidal affair was extramarital), as if to say Earhart’s true love was in the skies, not with any man.

Hilary Swank turns in a respectable performance but she’s hampered by Earhart’s mannerisms and cadences. I’m a huge fan of the actress’s spunky, forthright acting style when she’s playing scrappy characters. Here, portraying an iconic real person from the 2009_amelia_005-11930s, she’s forced to stay within certain boundaries and therefore doesn’t get to unleash her usual fire. McGregor, on the other hand, is sexier and more handsome than I’ve ever seen him (though his screen time is limited), while Gere does his usual squinty-eyed thing. Christopher Eccleston offers prickly but stouthearted support as Earhart’s navigator, Fred Noonan.

The thing I recommend most about this movie is its cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. The scenes with Swank soaring through clouds, over luscious green hills and blue oceans, put viewers right in the cockpit and clearly illustrate why Earhart loved to fly. There’s a sense of wonder and elation about those moments I wish the rest of Amelia has. The sequence showing her final flight contains some suspense, but the movie about a woman who took risks and broke barriers mostly plays it safe and ends up breaking no new ground at all.

Nerd verdict: Amelia doesn’t soar as high as it could have

All photos by Ken Woroner/Fox Searchlight

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15 responses to “Movie Review: AMELIA with Hilary Swank

  1. Thanks, PCN ~ I’d have gone more out of curiosity to find out more about Amelia Earhart than for anything else. Maybe I’ll still see it for the cinematography. You’ve painted a lovely picture there.

    Say, that squinty-eyed thing can be rather effective at times ~ but I guess we can have too much of a squinty-eyed thing.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      I wanted to learn more about her, too, but didn’t get much new info from the movie. Guess I’ll have to read the book(s) because I do find Earhart fascinating.

      I like the squinty-eyed thing when it’s sparingly used. Gere does an adequate job here, neither exceptional nor terrible.

  2. Hadn’t planned on watching this one….still not quite sure I will (although the view from “up there” sounds amazing!). For some reason, despite her awesome abilities to play a myriad of characters, I had a hard time seeing Hilary Swank as Amelia….even in the previews. (why? not sure, just do) Great post!

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Swank looks amazingly like pictures of Earhart so she’s a great physical match but perhaps not a good one in—for lack of a better word—energy. I think Swank gives off a great, feisty, contemporary tomboy vibe but she had to rein that in to play a woman behaving and speaking in a more restricted manner. The result is a subdued performance.

      I think this is the same reason Julia Roberts doesn’t do well in period pieces. You can’t put a lid on these ladies’ spirited natures.

  3. There’s been a lot of talk about Swank getting another Oscar nod for this film, and for another Swank-Annette Bening duel for the statue. Have you heard, or will get a chance to see an early preview of Mother and Child (and let us know if these two are the early favorites)? Thanks for the review, PCN.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      I’ve heard that, too, but I don’t think Bening & Swank are headed for another smackdown. Haven’t seen Mother and Child but I don’t think Swank will get a nomination for Amelia unless the category is really lacking in nominees.

      As of now, I think Meryl Streep will get nominated for Julie and Julia and Carey Mulligan for An Education, though I think she’ll have very little chance of winning. She’ll be this year’s Anne Hathaway, the young actress everyone’s impressed with but not enough to hand a statue to yet.

      • I can always depend upon you to be so up on things, PCN. You’re going to be the one I turn to when awards season gets in full swing! Hope you don’t mind, but I bestowed upon you a well deserved award. Just don’t get back at me and kick me with those taekwondo / Elvis Cole moves ;-).

  4. I need to read this post again…for the moment, I can’t get past Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston in the same film. YUM!

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Have you seen Danny Boyle’s first feature, Shallow Grave? Both McGregor and Eccleston are in that, too, and it’s an excellent, creepy little movie.

      McGregor is much more dashing in Amelia, though.

  5. I love Shallow Grave…I recommend that one all the time.

  6. Nice honest review. I’m not a big Hillary Swank fan so I probably will skip this one.

  7. I will go to this just to see Ewan Mcgregor.Hillary is not a favorite of mine either ,she almost destroyed P.S .I love You.She was a total miscast ,Gerard Butler saved it for me.Another Scotsman to the rescue.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Let me know what you think, jackie. I’m a fan of Hilary’s and thought she couldn’t save the movie. McGregor isn’t in it very much but he’s very dashing when he is on screen.

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