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"An intricate character study of fame and misfortune."
"DiCaprio is fantastic once more, emoting enthusiasm and affluence naturally while squirming with inner affliction, obsession, and compulsiveness."
"Appropriately weighs the good and the bad, the perfections and imperfections, the ambition and the loneliness."
The Aviator  


Howard Hughes: Leonardo DiCaprio
Katharine Hepburn: Cate Blanchett
Ava Gardner: Kate Beckinsale
Noah Dietrich: John C. Reilly
Juan Trippe: Alec Baldwin
Sen. Brewster: Alan Alda
Professor Fitz: Ian Holm
Jack Frye: Danny Huston
Jean Harlow: Gwen Stefani
Errol Flynn: Jude Law
Review December 2004

Influential, innovative, and imperfect, Howard Hughes was one of the most compelling figures of the 20th Century. And in Martin Scorsese's latest biopic, his life is exposed with a flair of confidence and courage. Written by John Logan, "The Aviator" chronicles the topsy-turvy world of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, a billionaire industrialist and visionary plagued with a private affliction. Throughout his career, Hughes romanced some of the world's most beautiful women, he produced some of the riskiest motion pictures ever made, and he helped pioneer the transformation of the aviation industry. But his desire for perfection would turn into obsession, tainting his legacy and forcing him into seclusion. With careful guidance, world-renowned director Martin Scorsese details Hughes' most prolific period while simultaneously alluding to the darkness that would consume him. Elegant and enthralling, "The Aviator" is an intricate character study of fame and misfortune.

In 1924, shortly after his 19th birthday, Howard Hughes, Jr. became the wealthiest teenager in the world, inheriting an oil (drill bit) fortune left behind by his late father. Interested in movies, he moved from the comfortable confines of Houston, Texas to Hollywood, California where after a few successful attempts, he began the most audacious film ever made. Entitled "Hell's Angels," Hughes' epic comprised the largest private air force in the world, World War I vintage planes collected from all over the world. Despite many setbacks in funding and equipment as well as Hughes' own obsession with perfection, the film became one of the best and successful action films of all time. And upon its release in 1930, Hughes became an instant celebrity, linked to such stars as Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, and Ida Lupino. But it was his relationship with Katherine Hepburn that gained the most notoriety.

Following "Hell's Angels," Hughes continued to make movies, some riskier than others like the controversial film "The Outlaw" with the very buxom Jane Russell. Although film was his love, aviation quickly became his obsession. Transforming a small Army Air Corps racer into the fastest plane in the world, Hughes was named "Aviator of the Year" in 1937. Subsequently, he circumnavigated the globe in record time, he acquired Trans World Airlines (TWA), and he created the largest aircraft called The Hercules, weighing an unprecedented 200 tons. During this time, however, Hughes began to unravel. After a near fatal flying accident almost claimed his life, he became very sick. An obsessive compulsive, Hughes withdrew from the limelight all together in the mid-1950s, but not before one final flight designed to restore his legacy.

In 1966, Hughes became disenchanted with California and moved to Las Vegas, where he spent the remainder of his life. Taking up residence at the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino, Hughes helped revive the city from economic hardship and transform it into the city we know today. Yet, nothing could hide the fact that Hughes was mentally ill, quickly becoming disconnected with society and his own business. After his second divorce in 1970, Hughes was completely alone. En route to Acapulco on April 5, 1976, he died of kidney failure, leaving behind a huge estate comprised of 26 operating companies and 16 different lines of business. Although no longer involved in the aviation industry, theHoward Hughes Corporation continues his legacy today as one of the largest real estate investment and development companies in America, participating in many philanthropic and charitable activities involving the environment, art, and education.

A labor of love for Martin Scorsese, "The Aviator" is a tremendous achievement detailing the glamorous, innovative, and eccentric life of billionaire industrialist and Hollywood filmmaker Howard Hughes. And it must have been a filmmaker's dream to covertly depict the progression of film during the silent era of the 20s and well into the sound era of the 30s and 40s. Yet, what makes the film even more special is Scorsese's manipulation of digital technology along with his use of classic techniques around lighting, costuming, and set design. Whether it's as simple as a trail of broken flash bulbs left behind by photojournalists or as complex as the Titanic-like digital effects used for the massive Spruce Goose, Scorsese finds the right balance. In fact, he even goes so far as to project in a way that is reminiscent of the time, using two-color Technicolor and black and white edits.

With the largest private air force in the world, Hughes made "Hell's Angels" a World War I extravaganza full of dazzling dog fights and extreme combat maneuvers. And his work with TWA, the H-1 Racer, and The Hercules showcased some of the most innovative aircrafts ever seen. In "The Aviator," these aircraft are brought to life in breathtaking and exhilarating fashion. Combining the award winning skills of cinematographer Robert Richardson and production designer Dante Ferretti, each flight sequence has rip-roaring sound effects and depth defying air dynamics to place you right in the cockpit along with Hughes. In fact, the near fatal D-2 reconnaissance flight is so real that you can literally feel the impact of the wings tearing through Beverly Hills, trees and limbs snapping in half, and the subsequent implosions shredding the hull as the plane falls to pieces.

My appreciation for Leonardo DiCaprio began the minute he appeared as Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Steven Spielberg's much underrated gem, "Catch Me if You Can." Watching DiCaprio project naivet?, ingenuity, and charisma was sheer delight. Now, DiCaprio returns to the aviation scene as Hughes, a seventeen year old whose innocence and privacy are lost as a result of his worldly vision. And DiCaprio is fantastic once more, emoting enthusiasm and affluence naturally while squirming with inner affliction, obsession, and compulsiveness. As for his co-star, Cate Blanchett portrays Katherine Hepburn with a jolt. Abrasive, exuberant, and overly chatty initially, Blanchett quickly rights the ship to show a compassionate, tender side of Hepburn beneath the idiosyncrasies. And most pleasantly, I was impressed with Kate Beckinsale's Ava Gardner, who flawlessly evokes sex appeal and kindness in a way that only a classic beauty like Gardner could.

As they say, every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And "The Aviator" is no exception; however, its single flaw is that it flourishes too long in the middle, obsessed with Hughes' eccentricities so much that it blurs the legacy. Of most significance, "The Aviator" lacks brevity. Coming in at 166 minutes, there is virtually no regard for conciseness, as both necessary and unnecessary scenes are left in. Scorsese, along with long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker, keep everything intact with very little hitting the cutting room floor. For instance, there are countless scenes of Hughes washing his hands, repeating phrases, and avoiding contact. Says Hughes: "Show me all the blueprints, show me all the blueprints, show me all the blueprints." It's enough to make one crazy. Or, in my case, check the time on a regular basis. Such redundancy, while character building, can have the adverse effect - and in this case, the rambling creates unnecessary restlessness.

That said, "The Aviator" is a remarkable accomplishment, detailing the trials and tribulations of a 20th Century visionary with honesty and conviction. With stellar performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Beckinsale, sensational aerodynamic effects, and imaginative storytelling from Martin Scorsese, the film appropriately weighs the good and the bad, the perfections and imperfections, the ambition and the loneliness. Even though it has a tendency to loiter on occasion, there's no questioning its integrity. The final portrait is a haunting and tragic one - a man who invested his fortune into progress only to be derailed by the ill effects of its success. And while many may recognize Hughes for his eccentricities, the majority will always recognize him as an aviator who paved "the way of the future."

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