Release Date: October 23, 2009

They look totally comfortable.

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97/169 Max Braden This was a nice history lesson of little factoids I didn't know, but the acting was wooden, I think due to the writing.

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Biopics always scream awards bait. They are a great chance for film makers to get away with asking for recognition while proving to the public they are equally as capable of returning it. By showcasing a beloved icon, producers are not only providing an experience that proves their ability to remain as historically accurate as possible and touch upon your fond memories of yesteryear, they’re banking on it. With Amelia, it’s clear Fox Searchlight is going for the gold, both Oscar glory and box office returns.

For those of you unfamiliar with the subject matter, the title character Amelia Earhart was not only the most famous female pilot of the early 20th century, but arguably maintains that status today. Her most notable accomplishment was becoming the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, most people are more familiar with the circumstances involving her death, or at least the mystery surrounding it. Her plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 and she was declared dead on January 5, 1939.

The most unfortunate move the independent picture producers made with regard to Amelia's story was in blurring the line between Oscar candidate and sweeping romance. Is the feature an outright attempt at Best Picture glory or do we have another next epic romantic tale on our hands? Given the star power that has attached itself to the production, either is possible.

Hilary Swank, who stars as the doomed pilot Amelia, brings credibility to the cast, but also helps in confusing the film's intent. She was won two Best Actress Academy Awards, for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby, so the film isn’t starved for acting chops. However, P.S. I Love You showed she’s no one-trick pony and wants to be taken seriously as a leading love interest as well. Given the presumed ending of a film about a pilot who goes missing, it’s not expected to be the next Pretty Woman.

Then again, Richard Gere also stars in the film, as publisher and publicist George Putnam, Amelia’s husband. Another actor with critical support and leading love appeal, he won’t help much in defining the film's direction. He’s classic at attracting older women to swoon over him for two hours, but always seems to come up just short when asking others for award consideration. He was, after all, the only lead actor snubbed of a nomination for Chicago, a Best Picture winner.

Rather than leave the fate of Amelia in the hands of two actors whose careers can’t clearly define a film, a supporting cast of strong acclaim was brought on board. Ewan McGregor stars as Gene Vidal, a man with whom Amelia has a passionate affair. We all know Ewan has no problem baring all on screen, so an intense and steamy yet tasteful, performance should be expected. Another actor with such a gift of emotion and restraint is Virginia Madsen, whose last star turn with Fox Searchlight skyrocketed her to fame with Sideways. As Dorothy Binney, Putnam’s first wife, she’s once again perfectly cast in a supporting role where she’s sure to become the scene-stealer.

While the supporting cast suggests better coordinates for this film's take off, director Mira Nair and screenwriter Ron Bass aren’t revealing much. Both have clout behind them, with Nair having directed several films while Bass has won an Academy Award for writing Rain Main, but the film is being described as more about the rough relationship between Amelia and George than it is about her vanishing while piloting over the Pacific in 1937. In its attempts to avoid answering any questions around her disappearance, the film is likely to come across as a lesser version of Titanic, only without the half of the movie where the ship sinks. Watching Amelia’s career rise while her love falls sounds great, but so would a payoff.

It doesn’t make the material any less interesting, as any part of the legend’s life is worth taking a look at. The problem here lies in expectations. At this point, neither Pretty Woman nor Titanic look to be the trajectory of this film. What took off in Hollywood in hopes of box office receipts is slowly losing itself mid-air. The script was rushed to completion just before the WGA Writer’s Strike took place and is based on a collection of Amelia biographies. Choppy source material thrown together at the last minute doesn’t bode well, but having two Oscars on Hilary’s resume will keep this project on the list of early contenders to look out for. Hopefully Amelia can fly past the confusion and arrive as she intended, on the Academy Award’s red carpet. (George Rose/BOP)

Vital statistics for Amelia
Main Cast Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Virginia Madsen
Supporting Cast Mia Wasikowska, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan MacGregor
Director Mira Nair
Screenwriter Ronald Bass, Anna Hamilton Phelan
Distributor Fox Searchlight
Rating PG
Screen Count 818
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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