'Amelia' - Chiclit's Review

I am grateful that Christopher Eccleston portrayed Fred Noonan in 'Amelia'. I am grateful for two reasons, one because he added much needed heart and grit to the movie, and two because it prompted me to rediscover the legend that is Amelia Earhart prior to seeing the film.

This is an old fashioned movie, with beautiful scenery, costumes, famous actors - one that you could take both your niece and grandmother to see without embarrassment. There should be more movies like this one, but with most entertainment directed toward young male audiences and male critics it seems likely that movies such as Amelia will become increasingly rare and therefore deserves support.

The movie was made by a talented and committed team; and much of the craft, particularly in the area of costumes, sets, and aerial shots is stunning. If the movie was made for 20 million as I have read, then most of the money is on the screen.

Amelia Earhart was an amazing woman, coming of age at a time when women with careers were regarded suspiciously - she tried on a variety of vocations and educational pursuits, all the while tending to the needs of her parent's rocky marriage as a good daughter of that era would. She became a nurse's assistant and worked during the pandemic flu outbreak. She studied both engineering and medicine. Her significant work as a social worker in Boston was highly regarded even as she got involved in record breaking journeys as a flier. I really wish the movie had the luxury to give time to more of that Amelia than the one we see in 'Amelia'.

Instead the script wants to focus on her alleged love triangle - which seems like a rather clich├ęd vehicle by which to view the life of accomplished, pioneering icon of America. And indeed, it almost seems as if either script writers or possibly director couldn't really decide on an approach to take with the screenplay - many characters are present for a scene or two and then fade away. They also couldn't seem to decide if they want to portray Amelia's actual life and influences, or her life as 'Amelia Earhart Public Figure'. The script attempts to make some points about the public persona and activities Earhart was forced to undertake to support her flying habit and George's lifestyle - up to and including her final flight, but ultimately plays it safe by never really committing to exploring the issues around that and the concept of celebrity.

The movie also fails to commit to a death scenario - and there are so many out there that have been speculated upon - indeed, having introduced so many minor characters earlier in the film it might have been interesting to see them react to news of her disappearance (Elinor Smith, young Gore Vidal, Eleanor Roosevelt) and to understand how, if it all, they went on to honor or remember her.

I do not generally regard Mira Nair as a tentative director, therefore I wonder if this movie is example of that old adage that 'too many cooks spoil the broth'? I wonder if the movie I saw is entirely the one she intended. I am actually looking forward to the DVD because I suspect there are a number of scenes left on the cutting room floor.

The performances: Swank is a gifted actress, capable of natural, earthy performances. That's why she has two Oscars. Her quiet moments as Earhart are excellent, but the rest of the time her performance is pitched just a little broad - I think it's meant to convey Earhart's leadership abilities and the bravado with which she carried herself, but it just didn't work 100% for me. Swank looks like Earhart, but instead of inhabiting her character she sometimes seemed to be inhabiting her character's costume. She seemed to be struggling a bit with her midwestern accent - it is so strong as to be distracting at times. I found her opening scenes with Gere as Putnam when they were bantering in dueling accents (hers 'Kansas' and his Boston Brahmin) to be off-putting, despite some decent dialogue and fabulous period detail. Swank brought this film to the screen as a producer and does a decent job with it, so will give some credit where credit is due.

I like Richard Gere, and he has some good moments as the jealous husband, but he has played the hustler, the deal-maker, and lover/mentor to younger women one too many times. I think younger and different casting in the Putnam role might have added some juice to the 'triangle' and more gravitas to the film.

Ewan McGregor plays advisor Gene Vidal, and despite being very charming, is barely used; but acquits himself well in his brief scenes. I thought he connected well with Swank on screen - and found their affair believeable - although apparently some folks are casting doubt on the historical accuracy of the affair claim.

And finally, Christopher Eccleston as doomed navigator Fred Noonan. To use a baseball analogy he is the relief pitcher, the closer. Comes in for a short stint, performs well, the overall score dependent on the team and the W/L goes in someone else's name, too. Eccleston portrays Noonan with passion, intensity and natural grit. In a few short scenes and lines he is able to indicate that Fred has a complicated backstory without us having to hear all the detail, we know him. He has a great chemistry with Swank and provides a way for the audience to finally get inside and feel this movie and what the characters are going through. The final third of the movie felt more accessible and I credit that to Eccleston's presence.

Although not every aspect of the movie lived up to aspirations, few things do. I would encourage people to go to this film if you like good old fashioned movies, like to see women as lead characters, and especially if you like Christopher Eccleston, his movie roles are way too few and far between, so savor this one.

2009-10-24

4 comments:

Hedgehog said...

Thank you for sharing your impressions, Chiclit. Can't wait until 7th January - that's when the movie comes to cinemas here. *sighs*. I'm only familiar with "Monsoon Wedding" and "Vanity Fair" of Mira Nair's work so far, but I quite liked those two in their own pretty distinctive style.
It's a bit funny sometimes how one can wish for time to pass sooner and slower all at once - slower as we'll be rotating specialties/wards once again at work come the new year and I'm rather happy where I'm currently, and know I'm due to rotate to the least desirable post this time.

chiclit said...

Thanks, H. I think you will love the look of Amelia, thats clearly a Nair strength, and there are some lovely and colorful visuals. I was also mesmerized by Amelia's outfits at times. I am sorry you and other continentally challenged others have to wait until January-and I totally understand the ambiguity about the passing of time..

joanr16 said...

Excellent reminder about the need to support films that are by and about women. This may not be my absolute favorite among Eccleston's supporting-role films, but I definitely plan to add Amelia to my DVD collection when the time comes.

Ruth said...

Great review - I agree with pretty much everything, especially how Chris managed to let us know who Fred was in such a short amount of screen time.