Martin Scorsese’s biopic of the entrepreneur and aviator Howard Hughes is a marvelous, entertaining, and interesting look into the life of one of the most unique, oddest, and accomplished individuals ever to capture and live in the public eye; all grounded by an extraordinary performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Howard Hughes was the heir to a fortune that came from drill bits in Texas but he moved on to bigger and brighter lights in Hollywood with the dream of making movies in between his love for flying. Fueled by his dream to build the fastest planes possible and the most successful films of their age Hughes found much success and translated that into romances with the biggest Hollywood starlets of his age. He was able to accomplish all of the even while his mind slowly faded into madness due his OCD and germ phobia that would plague the later years of his life and almost destroy his reputation when trying to take on the government and Pan Am in their historic dispute over the monopoly of the sky.
The film is one of Scorsese’s best looking to date and pops with rich colors that take you back to filmmaking of the day. The color in the film is actually quite intriguing as Scorsese made the pallet look only as good as the color photography of the year the scene takes place in throughout the film. So greens have a bluish tint and so on and so forth, giving the film a unique and timely look that lends itself to encapsulating us into the era of Hollywood the film constantly intertwines with. The scenes in the air are also equally impressive with some fantastic CG work and a real sense of excitement, terror, and speed depending on the situation.
With a number of amazing scenes to site in the film we can’t really take the time to mention them all. Though one of my favorite sequences of the decade came from this film and that is the scene in which he goes for the air speed record with his long engineered plane that we follow through its multiple interpretations leading up to its big day. Howard Shore’s magnificent score, the cinematography, and the editing of the scene all some together in a real think of beauty as we see Hughes finally take his baby for spin and culminating in a crash in a beat field that is almost to amazing to believe. A couple other scenes of note, the in the air filming of Hell’s Angels, the spy plane crash, and the Hepburn family dinner are the real standout scenes but the film flows so well it is almost hard to discern one from another.
DiCaprio in this film will go down as one of the truly great and amazing performances of his much herald career. He become Hughes, from his voice, his attitude, his mannerisms, he just nails it. You never feel like you are watching an actor his performance just grabs you by the neck and pulls you along for the ride. Scorsese was also able to assemble an incredible supporting cast around his lead. Cate Blanchett becomes Katharine Hepburn capturing everything about her that never feels like she is just doing an impersonation as she is effectively emotional as well. Her portrayal, along with DiCaprio’s, are so natural it makes the experience seem just that much more realistic. Alec Baldwin is nasty and a lot of fun as Pan Am C.E.O. Juan Trippe, plotting to stop Hughes and his growing TWA, Baldwin gets to play an unconventional villain in the film. Baldwin’s Trippe is supported by the just as excellent Alan Alda as the smearing Senator Brewster leading the Hughes hearings. Alda is so good in a lunch meeting with Hughes where the two are sizing each other up as the friendly fronts slowly erode into a lacing of the gloves before the big event. The back and forth between Alda and DiCaprio is also just perfect at the hearings exposing Brewster for the weak puppet he is. The rest of the cast is just as good and rounded out by a number of superiorly talented individuals in roles both big and small, John C. Reilly, Ian Holm, Kate Beckinsale, Jude Law, Danny Huston, Adam Scott, Matt Ross, they are all just great and playing on the level by the others around them.
The Aviator’s greatest accomplishment is its ability to capture the essence of this individual, Hughes, in less than three hours. His paranoia, his love for women, his oddness, and his secrecy, his amazing skills as an aviator and engineer, the list can go on and on. You really feel like you got a fantastic look into the life of this man and why he is the way he is. And you sit back and marvel and all that he was capable of accomplishing with so many issues to overcome. Constantly on the verge of sinking the ship, he would right his course and find a way to move on.
In the end, The Aviator is one of the finer biopics in a decade littered with them and is a wonderful filmmaking experience that takes you back to the days of old. Grounded by an A++ performance by DiCaprio, Scorsese and his amazing supporting cast fill in the rest as they created a wonderful and brilliant film to enjoy for years to come. Should be a go to film on how to craft a winning biopic and is a crown jewel in the crowded crown upon Scorsese’s talented head.
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