In 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, a feat she accomplished as a passenger in a plane flown by a man. But in 1932, Earhart made the trip alone, and it cemented her status as an international star. Earhart became renowned for going against the conventional grain, but she also capitalized on her fame, selling clothes, endorsing products and collecting fees for public appearances. In short, she was a celebrity, and probably would have remained one had she not vanished over the Pacific in 1937.
Amelia -- the fittingly named movie about this bold woman -- doesn't amount to much more than a series of episodic flashbacks built around Earhart's last flight, which was supposed to take her around the world. Maybe because Amelia covers only nine years, it lacks the sweeping arc we expect from better bio-pics.
So thin, she looks as if she might become airborne in a windstorm, Hilary Swank plays Earhart or at least dresses up as the famed woman flyer. Earhart was fiercely independent in her preoccupations and in her love life. She married publisher and PR man George Putnam (Richard Gere), but had an affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), and helped him land an important government job dealing with aviation. And, yes, Gene was the father of author Gore Vidal.
The movie depicts Putnam as a man who knew how to make the most of Earhart's achievements, and Gere portrays him with an unidentifiable upper-crust accent and a large helping of persistence. Putnam was jealous of Earhart's interest in Vidal, but won her back. He both supported and merchandised her passion.
Director Mira Nair (The Namesake) can't seem to find a rhythm for the picture, which doesn't acquire much by way of momentum until the final sequence in which Earhart tires to locate a small island in the Pacific -- with help from her navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston). We obviously know that Earhart and Noonan won't make it, but Nair builds some real tension anyway.
Amelia impresses as a big-screen catalog of pretty pictures and period detail, but the movie neither breaks our hearts nor elevates them. We can't help but learn something about Earhart and her times, but we don't feel as if we're living through them with her.