- Martin Scorsese
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Monday, February 14, 2005
The movie chronicles the life of mogul Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) from the 1920’s when he shot his legendary Hell’s Angels (the most expensive movie ever made at that point), to his subsequent career as a filmmaker and businessman, following his fascination towards aviation and the groundbreaking inventions he helped nurture despite countless obstacles. Of course, Howard was also fascinated by beautiful women, namely Hollywood actresses such as Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale).
Scorsese and DiCaprio had been trying to bring Howard Hughes life to the big screen for years. It required a huge budget, so that’s the main reason it took so long. Fortunately they got financing and shot a movie that justifies every single penny spent. It is a grandiose epic of impressive proportions, spanning almost three decades and bringing glamour to the screen as no recent movie has done.
So why isn’t it a masterpiece? As with most biopics, this movie suffers from the usual syndrome: it is episodic and tries to cram too much into too little. There are subplots that aren’t that interesting so the movie drags at times, especially during its last two thirds. There’s also some repetitive material in there, such as the continuous and tiring showing of Hughes’ descent into madness because of his obsession with germs. It just went a bit too far, and the reappearance of two of his girls from the past during this period just doesn’t fit. Then there are his troubles with competing airline Pan Am and with the Senate. These subplots don’t always work, although the court scenes toward the end do bring a much-needed boost to an otherwise dying movie.
That’s the bad, but there’s also a lot of good. The first hour of the movie is, in one word, brilliant. I wish it could’ve maintained that level. It shows Hughes while on the whole process of shooting Hell’s Angels, its subsequent release and his romance with Katharine Hepburn. It is all perfectly handled, with emotion and nostalgia to spare. Hughes’ sickness only begins to show and it fits perfectly with everything else. A blast!
And then there’s the amazing technical aspects the movie has to offer. Dante Ferretti’s production design is just about the best I’ve seen in that regard this year. And Robert Richardson’s photography is stupendous. Also, Howard Shore’s terrific score blended with recordings of the era. But nothing like Scorsese’s work behind the camera. He truly is a master.
I guess, when everything is said and done, the movie comes off really well because it succeeds in its portrayal of a fascinating and conflicted man who also happened to be one of the most important and influential individuals of the century. Scorsese is able to bring us right there to the moment and help us understand the man and the myth.
An amazing performance by Leonardo DiCaprio also helps us get to know Hughes as he was, at his better or his worse. He might not look exactly like the real Hughes, but he nails the accent, the mannerism and the inner ambition. But it’s Cate Blanchett who steals the movie with her dead-on, absolutely perfect portrayal of the legendary Katharine Hepburn. It is a performance that could’ve bombed, but in Blanchett’s skillful hands, it just soars and elevates the movie. The resemblance is almost scary. In supporting turns, Alan Alda, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, John C. Reilly, Ian Holm, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law and Danny Huston all excel. And I’d like to give Matt Ross (as Odie, Hughes’ right-hand aircraft manufacturer) a special mention because he is not well-known and I think he delivers one of the best performances in the movie.
“The way of the future.”
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Other reviews of The Aviator (2004): Groucho