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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern-day, old-school epic!, September 22, 2005
This review is from: The Aviator (2004) (DVD)
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.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 11, 2013 11:05:46 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 1, 2013 8:25:48 AM PDT
So happy to run across a damn good review. You express yourself
very much to my liking. Your statements on DiCaprio especially arouse
my empathy as well as your take on the whole film. I got a Scorcese
blu-ray featuring the "The Departed" and "Goodfellas" and am
constantly drawn to "The Aviator" (Kate and Leonardo rock my world in this).
Your last paragraph is also spot-on! Murray 847 a fine, house-shaking review I very much appreciate.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013 11:24:57 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 11, 2013 11:52:49 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013 11:31:35 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 11, 2013 11:59:42 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013 1:39:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 12, 2013 10:41:41 AM PDT
RMurray847 says:
Thanks, Mark, for your kind words. Your comments made me go back and relook at my 7 year old review...I think i still agree with myself.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013 11:55:03 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 12, 2013 9:49:42 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 4:45:43 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 12, 2013 9:49:58 AM PDT]
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