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Movie Review: Amelia (2009)

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Biopics are very hard to do right. Well, that's not exactly true. They are easy to get right, they are hard to make entertaining. After a while they all begin to look the same. The formula has been virtually set in stone. When you go into one, you're probably pretty sure of what you're going to see. The subject's life gets boiled down to the greatest hits version. All of the subtlety and nuance is stripped away leaving behind just the recognizable beats. While they tend to be good, there is really nothing different about them. It is rare that we get something truly original like I'm Not There (about Bob Dylan) or even something that tries a different approach while still catering to the mainstream like Julie & Julia (about Julia Child).

Now we are faced with a new take on the life of Amelia Earhart. It is a story that has been told numerous times before, but this will be the first one I have seen. I wonder how it ends? You would think it would prove to be an interesting tale. I strongly suspect there is a good film out there about her life and adventures. This is not it. Clocking in at just north of one hour and 50 minutes, it feels a lot longer, and is rather dull. I can't say this movie inspired me at all to look deeper into her life.

Amelia focuses primarily on Earhart's ill-fated flight around the world with side excursions to a couple of other events, like her two record-making trips across the Atlantic, and the creation of the Ninety-Nines (the organization for women pilots). Should be enough, one would think. However, it comes across as entirely dull and lifeless. This is especially egregious as there are elements that would have added a lot more flavor had the time been taken to explore them.

As it stands we hit all the expected beats. We get flashbacks to Amelia (Hilary Swank) as a young child with dreams of flight. We see her make the decision to fly the Atlantic. We see how she is not given much of a choice in how to do it, being relegated to little more than a passenger. We see her romance with George Putnam, and her apparent affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). Witness her second, solo, flight across the Atlantic. Plus see everything leading up to her disappearance over the Pacific. I'm sorry, you didn't know that? Well, consider it a favor, now you are free to see a movie that has more life in it.

A lot of time is spent, understandably, up in the air. It seems to be the one place where Amelia Earhart was free to be herself, unfettered by the complications of life on the land. No one was up there to tell her what to do or where to go. She did not have to play dress-up or glad hand folks who didn't understand her. Unfortunately for the audience, the flight does not really lend itself to much drama. It all serves a purpose, but they should have either cut back on the amount of time in the planes to allow for more drama on the ground, or just made the film longer and added in some more interesting elements.

There are two areas that jumped out at me for expansion, two areas that could have aided in making this movie more interesting. The first would have to be the relationship that Amelia has with Gene Vidal. The film hints at it pretty strongly, but it never really goes anywhere. I would have liked to have seen more about what happened between them and whatever effects it had on other aspects of her life. The other would be the period of Amelia's fame that saw her used in advertisements for all sorts of products. This was relegated to little more than a montage, but could have proved much more interesting. This is especially true if more was done after the moment where her integrity was questioned.

I am sure this would have done nothing but help the movie. I am also sure there is much more to her life that did not find its way to the big screen. I just really wish there was more to it than what was shown. What we saw lacked energy, making it a chore to sit through.

The performances were also rather listless. I cannot say that I cared about any of the characters. The big three failed to inject any sort of energy, not to mention they do not have much in the way of chemistry with each other. Hilary Swank was too intent on her voice while Richard Gere, who plays Earhart's promoter and husband, and McGregor are just sort of there.

Director Mira Nair (The Namesake, Mississippi Masala) does not do her reputation any favors here. Pacing is slow, scenes limp through their paces, and the film is generally uninteresting. The best I can say is there are some gorgeous shots, usually around the plane and of the ground passing by beneath. Unfortunately, it is not enough to make the movie work.

Bottom line. This could have been fascinating. It barely raises itself to the pedestrian. Dull performances, slow pacing, and lack of an in-depth story all add up to a movie that is destined to go nowhere and ultimately suffer a fate similar to that of its central characters.

Not Recommended.

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