|The Aviator (2004)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Martin Scorsese
2004 could have easily been named the Year of the Biopic, but most of the lives brought to the screen this past season (ie. Ray Charles, Alexander the Great, J.M. Barrie) have mostly been about men that were only historically or artistically significant. None of these men ever really accomplished something that drastically changed the world until now. Enter Martin Scorsese and “The Aviator” to the forefront of the filmmaking industry with this incredible biography about the aviation pioneer, filmmaker and renowned oddball, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio). “The Aviator” is not only the best biography-to-film adaptation of the season, but it is also one of the best films of the year with a dead-on representation of the extremely eccentric Hughes that is led by an ensemble cast and a smart script that never gets lost in its lengthy runtime.
The film begins in 1927 when Howard Hughes has just gained complete control of his father’s oil empire, pouring endless amounts of time and money into his WWI epic, “Hell’s Angels.” The film took over three-years to complete and gave Hughes his first taste of the Hollywood limelight. The story wastes little time though before it dives into the meat of Hughes’ interesting life, including his numerous Hollywood affairs with stars like Katherine Hepburn, the acquisition of TWA and his revolutionary aviation designs. Hughes’ less-than-normal lifestyle (an extreme case of obsessive-compulsive disorder) is also a major topic of discussion throughout the entire film and Scorsese doesn’t shy away from showing some of the youngster’s worst moments. As the story unfolds, it leaves huge gaps in his life and skips many years at a time, but it also nails most of the important events. The only thing that may have been a bit drawn out is the depiction of his secret romance to Katherine Hepburn, which has been disclosed as only a theoretical relationship by Hughes scholars.
No matter how hard I’ve tried to develop a dislike for young DiCaprio over the years, Leo astonishes the audience with one of his best performances to date. One of his strongest qualities as an actor is simply the fact that he ages so well, and his ability to play a youthful brat in one scene and a forty-year-old businessman in another speaks quite richly about his obvious talent. Leo is also joined by a strong cast of supporting actors that include Alan Alda as a crooked Senator, Alec Baldwin as Pan-Am owner Juan Trippe, John C. Reilly as Hughes’ right-hand man, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Kate Beckinsale as Eva Gardner, Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn, Ian Holm and even Jude Law in a small cameo role as Errol Flynn.
Scorsese does a great job with the film as an entire project, but this should not be the movie that finally gets that damn golden statue into the director’s patient hands. I really enjoyed the film as a whole and found it to be the most audience-friendly picture that Scorsese has done to date. “The Aviator” is highly recommended for anyone interested in catching up on a little American history and the stunningly realistic performance by DiCaprio, but I would really hate to see Scorsese’s entire career become a footnote to this project.
The two-disc collector’s edition of “The Aviator” delivers all of the goods you’d expect from an award-nominated film and more. The first disc includes the film in a beautiful widescreen video transfer and a full-length audio commentary by director Martin Scorsese, film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann. Disc two is really where all of extensive material is featured, including a deleted scene, still galleries, and twelve documentaries covering Howard Hughes the man, various production aspects of the film, and the cast that brought the story to life. For those who loved “The Aviator,” or just enjoy the historical relevance of Hughes’ life, be sure to check out the film on DVD.