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
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)