Friday, February 18, 2005

Movie Review: 'The Aviator'

Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, a biopic of the eccentric (an understatement) Howard Hughes who was obsessed with making movies and aviation, is a brilliantly entertaining movie that is most definitely worthy of its 11 Oscar nominations including best picture, best director (Martin Scorsese), best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and best actress (Kate Blanchett). It's an incredibly entertaining movie that focuses on the '20s and '30s when Howard Hughes sunk millions of dollars into making the movie Hell's Angels and took amazing risks developing new planes that led to him holding every important aviation record of that time and advanced aviation to unimaginable heights for that day. Dramatic tension is provided as Hughes is dismissed by the studio moguls of his day, his dramatic romancing of Katherine Hepburd (Blanchett) when he lands a plane on a beach, his dizzying test flights when he runs out of petrol and crashes in a field and slices of the tops of houses and nearly dies, his retreat into paranoia when he locks himself in his private cinema where he lives naked and grows a beard while filling the rooms with tissues as he tries to avoid all the 'germs' that threaten him, to his hearings before the corrupt senator Ralph Owens Brewster (Alan Alda) who tries to prove Hughes has been illegitimately collecting money from the government in an effort to remove him from competition with Pan Am. Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant in what may be the best acting of his entire career as he portrays the highly eccentric and, at times, mentally ill Hughes. Martin Scorcese has used just about every technical advance in cinema to lovingly recreate the period. There are so many entertaining highlights in the film that it is hard to describe the exhiliration of watching the drama unfold. Scorcese, though, neglects to tell the rest of the story of Hughes' life. As Albert Greenstein points out:

The peaks and valleys of his life were startling. As an aviator, he once held every speed record of consequence and was hailed as the world’s greatest flyer, "a second Lindbergh." At various points in his life he owned an international airline, two regional airlines, an aircraft company, a major motion picture studio, mining properties, a tool company, gambling casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, a medical research institute, and a vast amount of real estate; he had built and flown the world’s largest airplane; he had produced and directed "Hell's Angels," a Hollywood film classic.

Yet by the time he died in 1976, under circumstances that can only be described as bizarre, he had become a mentally ill recluse, wasted in body, incoherent in thought, alone in the world except for his doctors and bodyguards. He had squandered millions and brought famous companies to the financial brink. For much of his life, he seemed larger than life, but his end could not have been sadder. (Greenstein 1999)

Despite that, The Aviator is a 3-hour joy flight of a movie that never seems three hours long. A brilliant piece of cinema. My Score: ****1/2 (out of 5) Content Warnings Thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence. Recommended Viewing Age 15+ Best Review 'An enormously entertaining slice of biographical drama, The Aviator flies like one of Howard Hughes' record-setting speed airplanes.' - Todd McCarthy/Variety Worst Review 'The Aviator could've been a "Raging Bull" brother film, given that masterpiece's crystalline purity of purpose and humiliated courage. But it brakes far short.' - Michael Atkinson/Village Voice Related Links Wikipedia: Howard Hughes Famous Texans: Howard Hughes Howard Hughes Internet Movie Database: Howard Hughes

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