MOVIE SHELF – AMELIA

Amelia is a 2009 Canadian-American biographical film about the life of Amelia Earhart. Most of the story is told in flashbacks before ending with Earhart’s mysterious disappearance. The film was directed by Mira Nair and stars Hilary Swank as the title character and Richard Gere as her husband, George Putnam. The cast list also includes Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor. The film was written by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan.

On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) and her navigator, Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston), are on the last leg of an around-the-world flight. Moving in vignettes from her early years when Earhart was captivated by the sight of an aircraft flying overhead on the Kansas prairie where she grew up, her life over the preceding decade gradually unfolds. As a young woman, she is recruited by publishing tycoon and eventual husband, George Putnam (Richard Gere) to become the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean, albeit as a passenger. Taking command of the flight results in a success and she is thrust into the limelight as the most famous woman pilot of her time. Putnam helps Earhart write a book chronicling the flight, much like his earlier triumph with Charles Lindbergh’s We. Earhart gradually falls in love with Putnam and they eventually marry.

Embarrassed that her fame was not earned, Earhart commences to set myriad aviation records, and in 1932, recreates her earlier transatlantic flight, becoming the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. Throughout a decade of notoriety, Earhart falls into an awkward love affair with pilot and future Federal Aviation administrator Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). In a display of romantic jealousy, Putnam quietly tells Amelia that he does not want Vidal in his house. Earhart is annoyed by the seemingly endless agenda of celebrity appearances and endorsements but Putnam reminds his wife that it funds her flying. Earhart returns to her husband on the eve of her last momentous flight. Earhart’s last flight was her biggest and most dangerous adventure to date. Her plan was to fly around the world. Earhart’s first attempt ends in a runway crash in Hawaii, due to a collapsed landing gear, and her aircraft requires extensive repairs before the flight can be attempted again. Eventually, she takes the repaired Lockheed Model 10 Electra, sponsored by Purdue University, in a reverse direction, leaving the lengthy trans-Pacific crossing at the end of her flight.

Setting out to refuel at tiny Howland Island, radio transmissions between USCGC Itasca, a Coast Guard picket ship, and Earhart’s aircraft reveal a rising crisis; the Coast Guard radio operators realize that they do not have sufficient length to provide a “fix”. Itasca has a directional finder with a dead battery, and weak radio communications prevent Earhart and USCGC Itasca from making contact. Running low on fuel, Earhart and Noonan continue to fly on. Earhart and Noonan disappear. A massive search effort is unsuccessful, but solidifies Earhart as an aviation icon.

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