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Biopic of billionaire Howard Hughes, starting with his early filmmaking years as owner of RKO studios but mostly focusing on his role in designing and promoting new aircraft. Hughes was a risk-taker spending several fortunes on designing experimental aircraft and eventually founding TWA as a rival to Pan AM airlines owned by his great rival Juan Trippe. When Trippe's politico Senator Ralph Owen Brewster accuses Hughes of being a war profiteer, it's Hughes who gains the upper hand. Hughes also had many women in his life including a long relationship with actress Katharine Hepburn. From an early age however, Hughes was also germophobic and would have severe bouts of mental illness.Written by
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Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" is grand spectacle with a reverence for the nostalgic, set in simpler times. As a snapshot of Howard Hughes's life from 1927 to 1947, "The Aviator" is a portrait of a man of genius and unmatched innovation, and also a man debilitated by severe obsessive compulsive disorder and extreme depression. "The Aviator" has an amazing performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, and a mesmerizing performance by Cate Blanchett, who seems to inhabit the role of Katherine Hepburn-- the love of Hughes's life. However, the one indelible image I have of the film is the scene in which Hughes is frozen in the men's restroom, because he can't make himself touch the door knob for fear of germs and contamination. Granted this was a time before obsessive compulsive disorder existed as a diagnosis. The scene is intended as a dramatic arc, distinguishing a tragic flaw in Hughes. However, for me it seemed overly indulgent, and was curious regarding the scene length. Much like most of the nearly 3 hour movie, this is an exercise in indulgence, and attention to detail that is only that. Scorsese's balance between Hughes's genius and his great suffering is good melodrama, but not very inspiring. I have a particular affinity for Howard Hughes the man. Had John Lone's (and Michael Mann's) story followed Hughes through the 1950's and beyond, the story would be even sadder. "The Aviator" illustrates the highs of genius, and the abyss of near insanity. This is an accurate depiction of an amazing man's life, but it is skewed toward the broken aspect. So just personally for me, it was frustrating to watch. To Scorsese's credit, one gets that he has immense compassion for Howard Hughes.
Hughes' life sentence is established in the opening scene. Hughes's mother while bathing the young Hughes, tells him something that perhaps leads to his obsessive compulsive nature. Apparently he is incomplete in his relationship with his mother, and the story surrounding what she said.
Fast forward to 1927, when Hughes left his father's wealthy drill bit tool company in Texas, to be a maverick film maker in California. Hughes is an ambitious and novice film director, but he is smart and has unmatched drive. However, his real genius is as a pilot and an innovative designer of airplanes. His gifts for fame and fortune are established. Hughes (DiCaprio) then pursues a touching romance with Katherine Hepburn (Blanchett). This is the highlight of "The Aviator", even amidst the spectacular aerial cinematography, because it is just about relationships that move people. There is a wonderful moment when Hughes lets Hepburn take control of his plane as they fly above Los Angeles at night. As great as the chemistry is between Dicaprio and Blanchett, this romance part of the story goes on a little too long in the context of the movie.
From this point on, the movie becomes increasingly darker. Sure, Hughes has his share of triumphs, but everything is tempered by his spiraling decline into depression and his debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder. The acting is outstanding throughout the picture. This is Leonardo DiCaprio's most mature performance. He truly captures Hughes's intensity, genius, and charm. His suffering also elicits great compassion. Cate Blanchett is outstanding as Kate Hepburn. At first one wonders whether she is doing a caricature of Hepburn. She is not. She is being Hepburn. Blanchett's performance is simply stunning. An unrecognizable Kate Beckinsale is awesome as Ava Gardner. Beckinsale gives surprising layers to Gardner, who is really not all that she appears to be on the surface. John C. Reilly is fabulous as Hughes's CFO. In an understated fashion Reilly's performance anchors the movie. Alec Baldwin as Pan Am CEO, Juan Trippe, and Matt Ross as Hughes's engineer Glenn Odekirk give strong performances.
Scorsese's "The Aviator" is spectacular to view, and has a sense of history and tragedy. He offers an interesting portrait of the dichotomy between genius and madness, with an emphasis on the dark. This choice really lost me. "The Aviator" is amazing work, that is not very inspiring, though it was probably not intended to do so. That is a bit of a disappointment.
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