Director Martin Scorsese marches to his own music. He makes a lot of dark films that don’t net him a lot of money (Bringing Out the Dead, for example.) I disliked Gangs of New York very much because it didn’t look authentic, it was not emotionally convincing and it seemed a big unwieldy violent beast.
But with The Aviator, Scorsese got my attention. The Aviator is a very interesting movie, as clichéd as that sounds. It kept my attention for 169 minutes, and I do not like looonggg movies. When Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells off Senator Brewster (Alan Alda) at a senate hearing about Hughes’ supposed misuse of government funds for aircraft development during World War II, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Brewster was in the pocket of the president of PAN AM (played by Alec Baldwin) and trying to draft an airline monopoly into law. Even though Hughes was suffering from mental illness, he came out of it enough to win the day.
When that huge Hercules aircraft lifts off the ocean at the end of the film, I wanted to cheer again – out of pity for a man who today could have been helped by medication, and out of admiration for a man who did incredible things because he could, against terrible personal odds.
The film begins in the 1920’s when Hughes is into making movies: his was the first multi-million dollar film ever made, Hell’s Angels. He is already exhibiting signs of the obsessive-compulsive-paranoid disorder that will become more dominant as the years pass. He begins a relationship with Katharine Hepburn, amazingly played, accent and all, by the versatile Australian Cate Blanchette. Hughes goes from movies to aircraft, keeping an interest in both, but succeeding with airplanes in a way that can only be called gifted and inspirational.
The movie ends around 1947, in the middle of things; we don’t find out a lot about his early life (other than a hint that his mother may have had mental problems as well and to learn that his parents had died by the time he was in his twenties) or what happened after the Hercules flew. We do get insight into his illness - and his penchant for very young women and movie stars, though he hated the limelight. Hughes was certainly no saint.
In a year when epic films have gone pretty much bust, The Aviator succeeds. For it is an epic biopic. Howard Hughes is too huge a historical, Hollywood and aviation personality to deserve anything less than a film like this.
And did I tell you how good Leo is? I felt that he is totally believable in the role and if he gets some award attention, he deserves it.
Hold on. The Aviator is quite a ride.
(I saw this at The Bridge cinema at the Hughes Center, just off the Howard Hughes Pkwy in Culver City – now I really get the connection. Culver City is where much of the film story took place.)