The Aviator (2004)
PG-13 / 170 min
Biography / Drama
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Martin Scorsese
Let’s talk about Howard Hughes, one of the most financially successful individuals in American History. He was a business tycoon first, but his interests reached much farther than the business realm. He was an aviation genius as well as a film aficionado. He practically did everything from creating big Hollywood pictures to designing military-grade planes for the US. He’s a fascinating figure that has been explored multiple times in pop culture. Maybe the most prominent look into his life was Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, a biographical drama that takes a glimpse into Hughes’ younger years and his rise to prominence.
The film begins in the 1920s with Hughes’ filming of his big war epic Hell’s Angels. The multi-faceted tycoon is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who does an amazing job at capturing the businessmen’s keen attention to detail, as well as his other peculiar quirks. His accent might be a little grating at times, but it’s undeniable that DiCaprio takes the role by the throat and destroys it, in a good way of course. Over the course of the movie, we discover the type of person Hughes is and how he does things. The film spans twenty years and shows us his personal life as well as his dabbles in the film and aviation industries. Some of the stuff might be dry, but it’s really captivating stuff. I was constantly questioning whether the movie’s events were true, but Scorsese did a pretty good job at staying true to the story of Hughes. He’s a really unique man whose instincts lead him to greatness, as well as some dark places as well.
Scorsese has assembled himself an ensemble cast that really complements DiCaprio’s performance. Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale play Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner respectively, Hughes’ two love interests. They both give great performances, especially Blanchett who went on to win an Oscar for her performance. There’s also Noah Dietrich and Juan Trippe, Hughes’ business associates, played by John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin respectively. These are the recurring characters that we see over the course of the movie’s story, but there’s a bunch of other important players that serve important roles as well. I don’t think there was one bad performance in the movie. Everyone was strong and really sold their characters.
I’m always a big sucker for period pieces taking place in the 20s, and The Aviator did a bang-up job at recreating the period. The movie looks great, with eye-popping visuals and rich colors. The film just feels like an epic, in both scale and appearance. It’s full of glitz, glamor, and spectacle, present around every turn in the movie. I got to give some credit to Scorsese and the filmmaking that went into the look of this movie, because it sure was a treat to watch.
The only misstep The Aviator makes on its journey through Hughes’ life is in its pacing. And when I say journey, I mean it’s a long one. The movie almost cracks the three-hour mark, which is more of a detriment than an advantage. Most of the film’s material is captivating and intriguing stuff but there are some lulls, especially during the film’s middle ground. The first and third acts are really engaging, but the journey in between these acts is where the film slows down. Trimming some of the fat would have kept the film a lot more compelling through and through.
Despite some of its pacing issues, DiCaprio and the rest of his adjoining cast keep the movie going. It’s a riveting, and at times sobering, tale of triumph and failure. It’s no secret that Hughes, despite his massive successes, was a troubled man, especially during his later years. Numerous flying accidents did a number on him and drove him deeper into a state of physical and mental instability. Scorsese does a fantastic job at taking us through a vertical slice of Hughes’ life with The Aviator. It not only captures his good side, but his more unfortunate side as well. It’s dynamic and engaging, and well worth your time, despite its intimidating runtime.