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The Aviator /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Cate Blanchett

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Produced by: Charles Evans, Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Charles Evans Jr, Graham King
Written by:
John Logan
Distributor: Miramax Films




     There is a very fine line between insanity and genius, and many of the great figures of the past have crossed it. Historically, most of those who have achieved great things have been remembered as one or the other, not both. However, there is no doubt that Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, here)—the obsessive-compulsively raging perfectionist who was responsible for making films with unheard of budgets and constructing humongous planes in hopes of revolutionizing air-travel, in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s—was an insane genius. While the former term will always be used before the later, when describing him, in retrospect, no one will ever deny Hughes’ brilliance. I’ll be damned if Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator isn’t cold, hard proof of this.

     Not much of Hughes’ childhood is seen in The Aviator, but the audience can fill in the blanks for themselves. There is only one scene, which is split in half and opens and closes the movie, which takes place in Howard’s youth. He stands in a bath, as his mother washes him, and tells him that disease is abundant in their home-state of Texas. Fast-forwarding fifteen years in time, The Aviator chronicles the life of Hughes, the millionaire. Of focus are Hughes’ nutty and expensive creative process in making the film Hell’s Angels; affairs with Katherine Hepburn (the remarkable Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (the lovely Kate Beckinsale); building planes for the Army; and plans to compete with the monopoly, Pan Am, and begin offering commercial air-travel to Europe.

     Unfortunately, director Scorsese, out of his own pride for his directorial techniques, lets his ego get in the way of making the movie great. This is the same problem that Quentin Tarantino faced in making Kill Bill. In Scorsese’s previous films, he utilized his style of letting scenes roll on for great lengths, and it worked simply because the material was abundant in excitement. A work as subdued and reflective as The Aviator cannot boast this, to such a high degree. What Scorsese really needed was a lean, mean movie, with still plenty of room for after-thought. Instead, he has regrettably lived up to the name “A Martin Scorsese Picture,” forcing the film to clock in at nearly three-hours. The material, itself, is fascinating. However, The Aviator’s never-ending takes and sometimes ridiculous montages of Hughes’ emotional eruptions make it seem like more of an endurance test than a stunning portrait of an unsatisfied man, at times.

     That being said, the length of the movie was more of an issue to me when I first saw it, two weeks ago, than it is now. While I still think that it is The Aviator’s biggest flaw, I am recommending the movie, which I actually considered against, for awhile. Now, instead of dwelling on the problems in Scorsese’s work, I look at the great aspects of it. There’s no question that he has a knack for recreating the time periods that the picture chronicles, on film, and crafts several scenes masterfully. One sequence, in which Howard refuses to hand a man in crutches a towel, after he washes his hands, in a public bathroom, is striking in its craft. The motif of Howard’s overwhelming paranoia of being unclean is intensely and haunting, speaking volumes about his own addictions, physics, and priorities. Not to mention, all of the aviation sequences are astounding, even if they are usually less riveting than some of the more internally conflicted moments, in the film.

     As Hughes, DiCaprio shows that he is capable of greatness, as an actor. In the first hour of The Aviator, long before any of the material begins to tire, I was downright amazed by the actor’s range, in exhibiting Hughes’ perfectionism and obsession. Sure, Titanic and Catch Me if You Can proved DiCaprio to be an able performer, but I don’t think that anyone quite expected him to take such a drastic turn into transcendence, here. He and Cate Blanchett, who plays the famed Katherine Hepburn in a beautifully natural and human way, are two of the few constantly marvelous components of The Aviator.

      “We need a point of reference,” rattles off DiCaprio, as his Hughes realizes why the planes flying in his picture, Hell’s Angels, look like they’re moving so much slower on film, than they did at the actual shoot. He says this without even realizing that his own life is without a point of reference. Only childhood dreams are there to guide him, in his own aimless and infinite ventures in business and art. Even if The Aviator is bogged down by flawed aspects of a usually great director’s work, it is clear that everyone involved is has a passion for the material. This motivates a spectacle of a combined effort, which overcomes the setbacks of its own doing.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (Posted in 12.28.2004-2.5.2005 Update)

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