'Amelia' - Alex's Review

I did go to see the film with an open mind. And was treated most gruesomely. There were barely any traces of structure or narrative, and in its best moments it reminded of an otherwise decent feature that suffered something horrifying in the editing process.

With a tad less vitriol I could say that Amelia is actually two films, fighting each other. There's the genuinely fascinating and cheeky story about a woman who dared to dare (the good). And there's a trite and stifling 50's melodrama (the evil). Unfortunately, it's not even the case of 'where two fight, the third one wins'.

On the side of the evil we have Richard Gere, who at times - hopefully unintentionally - seems to be mentally leering at the proceedings around him and the movie itself, and his George Putnam is degraded. Juxtaposition that profiting from and loving the same woman implies is never used to full, and he doesn't appear to be interested in either. There's also the score, emphasising pathos, which is already in excess because of the subject. Going sentimental is a deadly trap, if you're trying to show adventure too.

And if you're showing adventure and action, the key thing is making it comprehensible. Even knowing all the exploits by heart, I found it sometimes difficult to place the scenes, I doubt that even making notes of all time/place stamps would have helped much. It's not about rewriting or truncating of the events - there isn't anything else, honestly speaking - but about building a basic narrative. There is no logic to sudden jumps here and there.

In the no man's land we find Ewan McGregor as Gene Vidal - doing what's required from him; unfortunately, there's only an artificial function for his role. His objections to stopping at Howland make little sense - in reality it was him after all who built the airfield there for Amelia.

On the side of the good there's definitely Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart. She's impressive, and I loved her voice. Although there's some insecurity, she makes the film bearable. Just enough realism, Amelia is shown both as having technical expertise and somewhat reckless. Especially great are these moments when Amelia seems to be amused, incredulous of the spectacle around her, and the scenes of flying, both happiness and worry.

Speaking of flying, Friendship's hop over the ocean is wonderful. It shows perfectly the reality of planes held together by shoestrings. Earhart's solo flying over the Atlantic is rather good too.

Now, the World Flight itself. There's no excuse that it isn't used as a backbone for the film. Chopping the round the world journey up like that, offering accidental glimpses into it doesn't just rob it of its scale and splendour, but also invalids the whole feature. Instead of being made a device to build the dramatic tension, it's completely compromised by the same randomness, reigning over the film.

Christopher Eccleston. It's one of his trademark chillaxed performances, that he, I suppose, could deliver on his way to a supermarket. His accent is American to a frightening degree, and there's the usual precision and presence.
No doubt he could play Fred Noonan as well.

His character in the film unfortunately is one of the victims of dial-a-script, and without Eccleston's effort would have been an utter caricature. What we have now, are, again, more tantalising glimpses of how awesome the film could have been - his irony and his cool set against Earhart's vitality and pluck. Add various details of very non-everyday everyday life in the air, more events on the ground in faraway places - and you'd have Amelia's character displayed like an open book, not just an interesting film.

All of the more promising scenes are cut short. And I cannot see any development towards the better in the end. Eccleston, being a background decoration, is subject to poor continuity, where it is expected that viewer's focus is on Swank. As for his character, he's not allowed any redeeming for that delusional claim he's an alcoholic and a nuisance. Earhart's messages are never explained, and it's essential to know that Noonan's skill did bring them to the vicinity of the island, the line of position (not to speak about successfully guiding them almost round the globe).

All in all, it's a cheap trick to imply technical troubles suddenly surfaced during the Lae - Howland leg. There were already problems way before the final takeoff. And there are more discrepancies. The direction finder on Howland went low on its batteries because it was being used in attempts to take bearing on the plane, and not just left idly on - and the main problem anyway was that Amelia had never been told about it being there. The Electra did receive the Morse code - via radio - but neither of them could read it.

All these misunderstandings early in the preparative stage that accumulated and eventually brought the disaster about, could - employing viewer's knowledge of the outcome - have been a perfect way to create a buildup.

I'm not saying there was nothing to enjoy. But all the good things - Swank's and Eccleston's acting, splendid cinematography (how great is that iconic shot of the Electra taking off?) - are totally wasted in the film that bends the facts to show what it wants, and isn't even sure what it wants.

2009-11-21


P.S.: director Mira Nair in FilmInk (Nov 16):
"This came to me as an independent film financed by one man, Ted Waitt, who formed Gateway Computers," Nair explains. "That was a big plus for me. He said, 'Here's a cheque, you hire your team - this is an independent film.' After a year with the studios [working on Shantaram], the last thing that I would do is sign up for a studio film. I've made a few, so I know the dance. But then, three months later, we had a new script, the planes were being built, I'm directing it, and so much was happening. Then three studios got interested, and the investors sold the project to a studio a week before shooting. The good news was that it was Fox Searchlight, who had done The Namesake with me, but ... it's a studio. So you have to make that whole investment of energy where you are submitting to market research and all those other things that they do. Sometimes it's for the good of the movie, and eventually I would say that we made a strong movie that I can absolutely stand behind. Throughout the whole process, however, there is a lot of energy expended that is not necessarily about filmmaking."

5 comments:

joanr16 said...

Alex, I'm grateful that last month you guided me to Finding Amelia by Ric Gillespie, an exhaustively researched book with a strong narrative voice-- and possibly the only one in 70 years to pull together all the tragic snafus that led to the loss of Earhart and Noonan. I found myself wishing, over and over as I read, that the film had been adapted from Gillespie's book. The filmmakers could've left out the love triangle and the haloed hagiography, and instead shown decisions made under pressure, miscommunications over vast distances and with too little time to rely on them, the smug assumptions so many men had of women's abilities in that era, and the raw guts it must have taken Ms. Earhart to accomplish the things she did.

I suppose the general idea of the film was to introduce Amelia Earhart to the young women of today, but she's hardly a forgotten foremother so I doubt a full bio is even necessary. The film lacked focus and perspective and so many other important things; I in fact felt the solo Atlantic crossing sequence was yet another gloss-over (what was it, about 5 minutes' screen time?), when I wanted much more of (arguably) the bravest thing Earhart ever did. Instead we get a menacing cloud bank, some thunder and lightning and rain, a whiff of smelling salts, and boom, she lands in Ireland. It couldn't possibly have been that easy.

And I can't imagine how Eccleston's contribution must've looked to you, after you saw Doll's House more than once this year... but your disappointment comes through, and is shared.

I concluded long ago that the Hollywood studio system has become nothing more than a plastics recycling scheme... and any film made in that system, or according to its model, is doomed to mediocrity (at best). I'm afraid the misadventures of Amelia are further evidence of that.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Joan, I'm glad to be of service, and I'm glad you found the book interesting.

Even without believing the Gardner Island theory (fair enough), in Gillespie's book can be found the hardest evidence there is.

I completely agree with you about what should have been shown. World Flight on its own would have been mind-blowing.

I also agree about the solo flight - but it would have claimed too much screen time to go deep into it. To keep the balance you have to abbreviate - I thought it was good how they showed the exhaustion and the elation.

It's such a pity the film didn't have the chance to be that quirky indie it set out to be.

And I'm still haunted by that clear image your suggestion of a play produced in my mind, I can practically see it from A to Z, with lights and colours and mood.

As for Eccleston, let's say, I suppose he knows what he's doing.

And me? I'm just thrown that I was much happier after 'G.I. Joe'.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

I know of course it's about higher expectations for Amelia - my teenage years were all about variometers, longerons, directional gyros and the like =) Add Chris Eccleston into the mix...

I should stress I think Eccleston is beyond brilliant in this film, I'm in no way disappointed with him.

But the overall effect, to quote an unrelated book: "It's the same as trying to get warm by the light bulb in the fridge."

Kitsa said...

Amelia was several movies searching for a common ground. The best parts of the movie were the parts of Amelia and Fred alone in the plane. I would have liked to see the story of the around the world flight as its own movie without all the side issues to distract them. The rest was three or four different stories, all fighting one another for control. The cast was good enough except they couldn't seem to work out what they were supposed to be doing in the over all scheme of things. The only real chemistry seemed to be between Amelia and Fred and that wasn't sexual, though I had to love that scene in the bar, and the sexy drunken leer, but it was a shared love of what they were trying to do that brought them together. I was also disappointed in bringing up the drinking as a factor in the disappearance, as my brother in law, who is an expert told me that that was just blame placing with no real historical evidence. Overall the film was beautiful but stupid, but of course Christopher Eccleston with his goofy awe shucks smile and shy before the cameras, completely in control in the back of the plane performance was brilliant.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Hi Kitsa.
It is indeed incredible - and says a lot about the movie - that the brief scenes with AE and FN tell more than the rest.

It's criminal really that the authors did manage to establish a dichotomy within these two characters and between them - and failed to recognize that, 'bettering' it instead until there was little left.