It might run a little too long and may not always compel, but Scorsese’s biopic features an excellent performance by DiCaprio and a stunning level of period detail.
Dir. Martin Scorsese
2004 | USA | Biography/Drama | 170 mins | 2.39:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin
Plot: A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.
Awards: Won 5 Oscars – Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design; Nom. for 6 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
First Published: 18 May 2009
Martin Scorsese follows up to the critical success of his violent period piece Gangs of New York (2002) with The Aviator, a less powerful but quite fascinating look at the life of one of the most famous names in 20th century American history: Howard Hughes.
Nominated for an astounding eleven Oscars, The Aviator is a conventional biopic that runs nearly three hours. The film is less Scorsese-esque than most of his other features and since it is presented in a straightforward manner without much narrative creativity, it makes the minutes tick by slowly.
While Scorsese tries to make the film work as a seamless whole, it can be observed that the picture is made up of three distinct parts: Hughes’ interest in filmmaking in his twenties which led the maverick director to shoot pictures such as Hell’s Angels and The Outlaw.
His mixed success with cinema gave him the opportunity to do aviation, a lifelong ambition that turned into a consuming passion. The final third shows us both his battle with compulsive-obsessive disorder and the politicians (and business executives) out to defame and force-buy his investments.
The film is too lengthy to work on its own; any potential power it has to enthrall viewers is dissipated once it reaches the final hour. This is uncharacteristic of a work by the master director. The use of CGI to re-create aircraft cutting through the sky at searing speeds is a sight to behold, though one can easily tell they look pretentiously fake.
“You don’t care about money because you’ve always had it.”
If there is something that would atone for the flawed use of visual effects, it would be an astounding sequence late in the second-third – the re-imagination of the crash that landed Hughes with serious multiple injuries and third-degree burns.
The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric Hughes, and an absolutely stunning Oscar-winning turn as Katherine Hepburn by the insanely talented Cate Blanchett.
The performances have enough quality to take us through some of the film’s weaker portions. And if I may add, this is perhaps the film that best shows DiCaprio continual and successful maturation from a once wildly popular actor to a solid and serious one.
Scorsese’s attention to detail is not lacking here. The costume design and art direction are excellent, bringing viewers back to pre-WWII Hollywood America in all its glamour and scandal.
The Aviator is never a masterpiece; it is sometimes funny, tragic, and dramatic, but it struggles to perform on an epic scale. Scorsese tries too hard to film the perfect Howard Hughes biopic that he occasionally loses his focus. The result is decent, but it is far from the standards that one would associate with the legendary director.