Hilary Swank's performance as the extremely independent, extremely adorable aviatrix Amelia Earhart is pretty much as good as it gets. Straddling the line between full-body character acting and old-school stylization, Swank has a tough job, but she makes her portrayal look easy -- even with a script that's not necessarily the best.
Opening on Earhart's fateful decision to complete a round-the-world journey in 1937, the narrative subsequently jumps back to her first meeting with publicist George Putnam (Richard Gere), who would organize her 1928 transatlantic flight, and later become her husband. The freckle-faced young pilot is fiercely independent, but though the movie illustrates the strides that Earhart made for the feminist movement through her celebrity, the plot is much more focused on the love story between her and Putnam -- whom she calls GP. It's a very sweet romance, and it dovetails nicely with the nature of the overall film -- which is a traditional inspirational drama through and through, and certainly doesn't reach for profundity. Swank and Gere have great chemistry in this way, and the two share a believable intimacy onscreen. Even still, there are other elements -- like Earhart's affair with Gore Vidal's father, Gene (Ewan McGregor) -- that seem shoehorned in, disconnected from the rest of the movie. Swank works as hard as she can to illuminate her character's motivations, but sometimes there just isn't enough material there for her to succeed.
However, Amelia might just make up for these shortcomings by virtue of its beauty alone, as the art direction is as lavish and immaculate as we've come to expect from big-budget period pieces. The film is shot, costumed, and set decorated within an inch of its gorgeous life, alternating between lush aerial landscapes and lovely, sepia-tinged art deco style. Earhart's own boyish take on the gamine look of her day -- complete with Annie Hall-style men's shirts and ties draped over her boyish frame -- provides a particularly compelling aesthetic, as do the captivating scenes of her journeys to Africa and the Middle East. When the pilot's infamously mysterious demise begins to loom on the story's horizon, we certainly know what's coming, but don't be surprised if you find yourself hoping against hope for Earhart's fate to change -- if for no other reason than so we can live in that stunning cinematic world a little longer.