Martin Scorsese's stylish take on Howard Hughes' early life, is a stunningly visual treat in art direction made even more compelling by Scorsese's sure handed directorial flourishes. Scorsese is, by now, a master of the medium, always finding the interesting shot, the fitting camera angle, the flowing tracking shot, the camera movement that breathes energy into his story. It is beautifully filmed and acted, most especially by Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes.
It is a long movie, and it will be interesting to see whether a modern audience, many doubtless unfamiliar with the Hughes legend, will find it as intriguing as we who remember the Hughes of Las Vegas etc. Take the clue from the title, this is a film about the young Hughes who was a genius and a creative dynamo, and an almost overlooked pioneer of aviation. This was a young man full of ambition, dreams, energy and contradictions. The film not only presages the pitiable creature Hughes will become, a slave to his obsessive compulsive illness, but it does so with sympathy and sensitivity.
A first rate biopic done with flair and style. Another worthwhile look at an American life.
Reviews of THE AVIATOR seem to fall into three camps. Those who hate it because it rewrites history...I'll admit right here that I don't know enough about the "true" history of Hughes to comment on the accuracy of every detail. Others hate it because they find it boring or don't find Leonard DiCaprio credible as Howard Hughes. The third group likes the movie.
That's the group I'm happily in. It is by no means the greatest epic ever made, but for me it hearkens back to the glory days of the early Cinemascope, Technicolor Hollywood epic, but with better special effects. The sets and costumes are completely luscious. No expense has been spared. You feel glamorous just watching the darn thing. The acting, while very good all around, teeters close to going "over-the-top," which is just what this sort of film needs. It is not a subtle film. It is trying to tell the epic story of an epic American who achieved epic things and endured epic personal battles. A bit of bluster and scenery chewing is in order.
For example, everyone loved Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn(heck she won the Oscar). I admired her performance too...but when you watch it, you see that it is pretty unsubtle. Was Hepburn, even in quiet moments, really so full of PERSONALITY? But the film needs this to work.
Alan Alda was great...he plays slimy so well now. In my mind, he's going to totally shake off Hawkeye Pierce and emerge as a key player of political villany. In real life, he seems like a terrific, open, intelligent and easily amused person. Scary how just a tiny tweaking of those dials makes him creepy. Good stuff!! Kate Beckinsale, out of her league, does okay as Ava Gardner, but the role is generic. You never feel Ava Gardner...just some nameless starlet. Gwen Stefani got a lot of mileage out of dressing up like Jean Harlow, but she's hardly in the film. She looks great, though. Jude Law has a tiny part as Errol Flynn...how perfect that casting is!!
And finally, DiCaprio. Here's a huge role for him, one leaving him open to great failure. Yes, I know he still looks like young teenager. In GANGS OF NEW YORK, that worked against him...his anger in face of Daniel Day-Lewis was never threatening...heck, the guy could hardly grow a beard...how could he take on a master-thug? In CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, he uses that boyishness to perfection...a role he was made for naturally. In THE AVIATOR, they don't really try to make him seem older. DiCaprio is forced to make us believe he is Howard Hughes by force of his acting...not his impersonation of the man. At first, Hughes hits Hollywood with his wealth and boyish enthusiasm and starts making huge films. He's full of nervous energy and driven to succeed. That actually suits DiCaprio's natural look pretty well...so early on, we can see the boyish DiCaprio as the boyish Hughes. As Hughes ages, DiCaprio can't (and other than a few subtle lines, the makeup artists don't try to age him), but by this time, we already buy him in the role. His personality becomes more complex as his mental disorders become harder and harder for him to combat...and DiCaprio and Scorcese beautifully stage these scenes. One great moment has Hughes in a public restroom, having just obsessively washed his hands. Another patron askes Hughes to hand him a towel...but Hughes' problems simply won't let him. He knows there's no reason not to help the guy. We see DiCaprio's face racked with shame. He wants to get the towel, but can't. He groans out a "I Can't" over and over, as he's frozen in place. He can't even make himself run away...his horror at himself is too complete. This is pretty good stuff. Later, when Hughes has gone totally off the deep end, and locked himself into his offices, letting his hair grow and his hygiene become questionable (at best), his demons have totally evolved. So when he finally summons the strength to fight them down long enough to face a Senate committee (and the outcome will determine the survival of his airline), we root for him quite enthusiastically. And finally, there are the scenes where Hughes flies his experimental aircraft. First, he flies over a field and is forced to make a rough landing. His exhilaration, even as he must know at some level that he could die, is palpable. He's a kid in a candy shop...multiplied 100 fold. Later, he crashes into some fancy suburban homes. This scene is brilliantly staged, with great sound and editing, and we really feel we're in that crash with him. It's horrifying. And finally, the flight of the Spruce Goose is an emotionally climactic moment.
There's no doubt that Hughes was a "difficult" person...even without his madnesses. He wasn't much good at forging close personal relationships with women. But what Scorcese and DiCaprio have captured with THE AVIATOR is the spirit of a time in our history when great things could be done by great individuals with great ambition and drive. It's exhilarating.
To those who found the movie boring and cliché-ridden, I have no answer. People keep saying that THE AVIATOR "isn't TAXI DRIVER or RAGING BULL." So what? Spielberg's MINORITY REPORT ain't E.T. or JAWS, but each is a masterpiece on its own terms. Frankly, Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL is so unlikeable, the film has always kept me at a bit of an emotional distance (great though it may be). At least in THE AVIATOR, I could root for Hughes and even sympathize with him. And DiCaprio, despite all his foolish, tabloid-baiting activities after TITANIC, is truly one of our most gifted actors. GILBERT GRAPE? CATCH ME IF YOU CAN? A BOY'S LIFE? And now, THE AVIATOR? He's the real deal.
Personally, I recommend this film VERY highly. It's the finest mix of old-Hollywood ambition with new-style technology.
on February 14, 2007
On one level, this is an interesting and convincing period piece about the times in which Hughes lived and his remarkable accomplishments. I didn't fully catch onto the filmmakers' ultimate intent though until I watched it a second time: that is, the gravity of obsessive-compulsive disorder in Hughes' life. I greatly enjoyed the film the first time I saw it but it wasn't until that second viewing that I realized the power and grittiness of the story they were trying to tell and, for me, the "classic" status it should/will receive. The source music really helps set the period and the score by Howard Shore is truly exceptional. My respect for DiCaprio grew tremendously as well - both for his actual performance and after learning more about his passion for wanting to put this story onscreen and all the work he went to and interest he took in the project. I don't like using the word "epic" and often avoid so-called stories that are, but 'The Aviator' is a grand one that has a tone all of its own due to the focus on Hughes' determination and achievements in face of mounting external struggles and even more overwhelming internal ones.
on July 11, 2010
This is an excellent movie that shows the brilliance and illness of a legend. The acting cannot be faulted. Everyone does their job well.
I can't say great things about the blu-ray because it really didn't enhance anything. That said, for $10.00 I won't complain. If you have the DVD, don't bother with the blu-ray. If you don't, it will be 10 bucks well spent.
on September 16, 2013
The Aviator, an epic biopic of Howard Hughes' career, won 5 of 11 Oscar nominations, 4 of 14 BAFTA, 3 of 6 Golden Globe, and 1 of 11 Satellite. It was well deserving of all these industry accolades, and more not listed here. His second film with Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role has a lengthy all-star list of supporting actors and actresses that include Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Danny Huston, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law and Willem Dafoe. It's little wonder The Aviator collected dozens of major industry award nominations: (1) Stellar performances from a large all-star cast, (2) great attention to detail for accurate period costumes, props and sets spanning several decades, (3) numerous special effects created with large scale models (instead of using CGI), (4) special methods used on the film during processing to recreate the look of Hughes 2-strip "Multicolor" process used in the 1930's for color movies in the first 1/3rd of the film, then a shift in the processing to recreate the appearance of 3-strip Technicolor for the remainder of the film, and (5) a long 2:49 running length with a pace and sufficient action that makes it seem shorter than it really is. The Aviator is an epic in more than length and subject scope, it's epic in a half-dozen different aspects that were superbly executed. Even if the subject matter, Hughes' life, were not of interest, seeing the film just to observe the technical work that went into making it is worth while.
Blu-ray transfer is excellent with great color and much detail which would be expected with a 2004 film. The multi-channel audio is impressive, particularly the directional aspect of ambient environmental sounds from ongoing background activities (e.g. aircraft engine sounds) to include tracking of moving sound sources.
on January 15, 2005
"The Aviator" is a spectacular whirlwind of a picture, a technical tour de force of cinematography and editing. It is Martin Scorsese's best, most confident work in years. It is a relief for those who worried that his visual flair and technical skill had become more important to his films than character and story. Most importantly, "The Aviator" is a movingly sympathetic, marvelously entertaining portrait of an archetypal American figure.
The film can be considered Scorsese's "Citizen Kane," a hugely ambitious biography of creative genius and business mogul Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio). Hughes, a towering celebrity for most of the 20th century, was brought down by his obsessions and eccentricities and eventually driven into seclusion by his mental illness.
The film begins in 1927, with Hughes using his inherited fortune to direct "Hell's Angels," a war epic that was at the time the most expensive movie ever filmed. Though Hughes is a success in Hollywood, he moves on to the aviation industry, building planes for the Air Force during World War II, then buying Transcontinental and Western Airlines. The first hour of the film, which chronicles Hughes' rise to fame and power, is a pure pleasure to watch.
The second half focuses on Hughes' confrontations with Pan Am president Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) and the government's efforts to stop TWA from expanding internationally. Most devastating are FBI investigations into Hughes' activities during World War II, headed by the corrupt Sen. Brewster (a delightful scene-stealing Alan Alda).
DiCaprio inhabits Hughes effortlessly, depicting his illness sensitively and realistically. The extraordinary performance proves that he has matured into one of the most talented actors in Hollywood.
Hughes was also famous for romancing several famous women, and John Logan's script has wisely chosen to focus on Katharine Hepburn, played by Cate Blanchett in a deliciously over-the-top recreation. Her performance is so charismatic that when she leaves Hughes for Spencer Tracy, there is a void in the film that slows down its second hour.
Hughes died in 1976, alone and broken down by the paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorders that had haunted him throughout his life. Though the film doesn't follow Hughes to his dismal end, the intrusiveness of his mental illness is blatant. In one wrenching scene, Hughes -- hounded by the FBI, and despairing that TWA is doomed -- locks himself within a screening room for days. He eventually returns to apparent normalcy, but the film is affectingly realistic about its hero, instead of mindlessly sentimental.
"The Aviator" is certainly an unsettling and challenging piece of filmmaking that does not shy away from difficulty -- but its ultimate effect is to celebrate Hughes' achievements, the power of human creativity and the promise of the future. Its message is mostly optimistic, which stands in stark a contrast to the existential grittiness and relentless pessimism of Scorsese's earlier work.
As can be expected from any work of its ambition and sheer size, there are problems with the film. Logan's script is inevitably a condensed and somewhat whitewashed account of Hughes; His anti-Semitism, racism and involvement in weeding out Communists in Hollywood during the Red Scare of the 1950s are merely hinted at. More problematically, the film strives for pat explanations in situations that deserve a subtler treatment. Though a biographical film does not need to explain every aspect of its subject's life, "The Aviator" seems to want to do so.
Nevertheless, it is a terrific achievement. The film is arguably the most accessible of Scorsese's career, and it takes a significantly more positive and inspiring view of human nature than most of his work. The cynic would argue that Scorsese is doing nothing more than Oscar-hunting. But if the director wins the Academy Award for this film, which he very well may, it will be because he truly deserves it.
(Originally published in the Yale Daily News, January 14, 2005.)
on March 15, 2014
No matter how disturbed Howard Hughes was, he was a brilliant man, a genius, with the ability to change the world when it came to aviation. I've seen the Spruce Goose, and was completely in awe of that accomplishment or dream of his. I love movies based on true stories, especially those of inspiration and achievement beyond the norm. I think this should be a required component of school history classes. There are some "intimate" scenes, but this man's contribution to aviation, in both design and actual piloting, plus his struggle with OCD, which I'm sure was basically unrecognized back then, and can't forget his involvement with the movie industry, and of course, Las Vegas!! I'm sure there's more, too!! So, he didn't like germs...!! Big deal, neither does Howie Mandel!!
I'm a seventy year old grandma, and all I knew of Howard was that he was really wealthy, a recluse, and built a monster of a plane! Thank Heaven for Hollywood to enlighten the world that dreams can become reality!!
on September 15, 2015
Captivating history of 20 years of Howard Hughes' life. Now I know where the motorcycle gang got their name! Starts with making of 'Hell's Angels' movie. Then personal demons follow & torment him for life. But he manages to bring about amazing progress in aviation in spite of it all.
on September 14, 2015
I really don't know if this is a good movie or not. Sometimes, for me, it's really hard to tell. What I can tell, though, is that it's stunning in many ways. I don't care about any of the characters (because they just sort of exist in the movie without actually having any effect on the movie and story, go figure), but there are wonderful scenes and sets, and lovely parts with all the aeroplanes of the time. The bit about the beautiful Wooden Goose is just worth watching the whole movie.
on April 17, 2015
Great movie and I hate Leonardo DiCaprio, so that's saying something, I've seen it a 100 times. But I love anything to do with Howard Hughes, a man who was considered MAD but really just had OCD and was at the time unknown to mankind, so he suffered greatly through his entire adulthood, he wasn't MAD, he was a GENIUS beyond reproach. He makes Gates look like A Chimpanzeee when each is compared to their peers....
He invented everything from the adjustable hospital bed WHILE IN THE HOSPITAL for his famous XF11 spyplane crash that nearly outright killed him over Beverly Hills... to being the first man and company (TWA) to fly above 20 000 feet making aviation viable for the public...before that everything had to be below the weather, but Hughes took it over 20 000 with his TWA Constellation aka the Connie... Great man.. just sick and misunderstood. :( He also set air speed records, flew around the world solo just like Lindbergh did to Europe, and many other achievements.