Review: The Aviator

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  December 17, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

It's interesting how one visionary can get inspired and eventually embrace the work of a fellow visionary. That can probably be said when you talk about director Martin Scorsese's epic-biopic The Aviator, which chronicles the life of aviation visionary Howard Hughes.

The film opens in the late 1920s and at the start of Howard Hughes' (Leonardo DiCaprio) first film, 1930's Hell's Angels, which was a huge undertaking and became the most expensive movie in Hollywood history to that point. Hughes will eventually direct two films and produce over 20 in his years in Hollywood.

The film continues through the life of Hughes, where he has affairs with Hollywood royalty like Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). The film eventually concludes sometime after the conclusion of the Second World War, in the mid-1940s, where Hughes must take on the power of Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) and save his crumbling empire.

Throughout his illustrious career as one of Hollywood's premiere directors, Martin Scorsese has done his share of biopics. From the power and strength of 1980's Raging Bull, to the controversy of 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ, to the mysticism of 1997's Kundun, Scorsese has tackled all sorts of different yet personal stories. The Aviator is bigger and grander than any of those films, but still echoes the powerful solitary story of one man's life.

At the center of Scorsese's epic is the amazing performance of Leonardo DiCaprio, and it's probably his best since The Basketball Diaries.

In watching DiCaprio grow as an actor on screen, I have always found it hard to separate Leo the actor from the role he was playing. Even in Gangs of New York, I never fully accepted DiCaprio in the title role. For the first half of The Aviator, I was having the same problem with his performance, but then something changed and as Hughes began to unravel so did Leo. It was at that moment that I began to see the role as it was meant to be played, and I also think DiCaprio grew as a thespian. It is an utterly brilliant and career-changing performance.

Another brilliant but over-the-top performance is Cate Blanchett as Kate Hepburn. She is bold, boisterous, and full of life and seems to understand some of the things that make Hughes tick. I loved how Blanchett would toss her head and laugh in Hepburn's unforgettable accent. Blanchett is amazing in the role.

There are oodles and oodles of supporting players in this cast, including some dynamite tidbits from Kate Beckinsale's Ava Gardner and Ian Holm's Professor Fritz. Alan Alda's Sen. Webster is devious and crooked. It was nice seeing Alda come back into the spotlight.

But for the most part this was a Leo and Cate film.

I loved the rich and lush production design and the intricate attention to detail when dealing with so many famous Hollywood scenes, including the Hell's Angels premiere gala. The whole idea of how many crushed flashbulbs littered the red carpet in those days is mind-boggling. It is an amazing film just to look at visually, even without the tour de force performances from the leads.

The Aviator's only slight flaw may be its length, but there is enough beauty, majesty, and action to hold our attention. It is a brilliant biopic and shows us that even with all the money, vision, and execution, it still takes a great man to bring it all together. Kind of like Scorsese, himself. (5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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