Opening 17 Jun 2010
Writing credits: Ronald Bass, Anna Hamilton Phelan, Susan Butler, Mary S. Lovell
Principal actors: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson
This docudrama by Mira Nair tells the life of pilot Amelia Earhart (played by Hilary Swank), the first woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Born in 1897, she bought her first plane in 1921. Her first trans-Atlantic flight in 1928 was as a passenger with two male pilots, who needed a token woman in order to achieve a new flight record. She returned to a ticker tape parade down New York City’s Fifth Avenue and went on to a successful career as a pilot; she encouraged women to follow her example. The film shows her as she comes in third at the Cleveland Women’s Air Derby in 1929 and makes her first solo trans-Atlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1932 (after fourteen other people had died trying – five years after Lindbergh). She writes a book and is the center of attention at various press appearances – a veritable poster girl for aviation and for women. In 1937 she aimed to become the first woman to fly around the world. She and her navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) took off eastwards (after a false start) from Miami in 1937. On the last lap from Asia to the U.S. west coast, they were supposed to refuel at tiny Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. All possible safety precautions of the time were put into place, but still she was not able to communicate by radio with the island. She probably crashed on July 2, 1937; she, Noonan, and her plane were never found, in spite of a massive search.
The film shows all of this and more. Hilary Swank is probably the best possible actress to interpret Earhart, if indeed Earhart (as she also appears in various biographies) was a tomboyish, rather masculine, type from Kansas who insisted on freedom in the air and on the ground, even in her marriage to George Putnam (Richard Gere) in 1931. I wonder why Gere was willing to play a milquetoast husband who hovers in the background and smiles a lot as his wife explores “no borders, just horizons.” The most interesting detail was her supposed affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), who was a pioneer in the commercial aviation industry and founder of several U.S. commercial airlines. He is the father of writer Gore Vidal, here as a child played by little William Cuddy. Also very interesting were all the old planes, black and white photos, and references to Eleanor Roosevelt. However, you can research all of this on your own without having to watch uninteresting love scenes, which seemed very fake on screen. No doubt: Earhart was a unique person, but I am still waiting for the film or book which makes her actually come to life as a real person and not a wooden icon. (Becky Tan)