The Aviator (2004) Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Jude Law, Danny Huston and Gwen Stefani.
With the help of his esteemed editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese has a knack for making a snappy-feeling biopic. In a sense, he’s a great illusionist. The running times of his films (this one clocks in at 170-mins) often land comfortably beyond the 2.5hr mark, yet they never seem to feel quite that long. It is a testament to his skill as a storyteller that he has the ability to help us escape the trappings of time and lose ourselves in his pictures.
Scorsese often admires significant people for their achievements, yet he is never shy of showing people for who they really were. Take boxer Jake La Motta for example, a fearsome presence in and out of the ring in 1980’s Raging Bull. A man who could hurt himself and his loved ones far worse than he did any of his competitive opponents.
With 11 Oscar nominations and 5 wins to its name, The Aviator tells the remarkable story of Howard Hughes from the late 1920’s to the mid 1940’s. Hughes was a man with a few ‘strings to his bow’. A business man, an inventor, a film director, an aerospace engineer and, as the title of the film suggests, an aviator. Yet there was more still to Hughes. For years, he tried to fight off the tendencies of an obsessive compulsive disorder. He courted screen beauties like Jean Harlow, Ava Gardner and Katharine Hepburn, as well as fighting to preserve his name in court against accusations of financial wrongdoing against the American people. He didn’t lead a dull life.
Leonardo DiCaprio steps into Hughes’ sizeable shoes for his second collaboration with Scorsese after 2002’s Gangs of New York. It represents a real watershed moment for the actor. All of a sudden, he feels like he’s shedding that poster boy ‘Titanic‘ image for good by fulfilling his potential and stepping into a new phase of his career. For such a remarkable man like Hughes, it had to be a similarly remarkable performance and DiCaprio delivers with a flush. The enigmatic flawed genius of Hughes is captured superbly. There is a real sense that this man thought he was bigger than life, yet his own personal demons were never a split-second away. It’s a complex and fascinating performance that is matched brilliantly by an Oscar winning Cate Blanchett, playing opposite him as Katharine Hepburn. Blanchett fully captures the essence of Hepburn, bringing with her a reassuring sense of authenticity which allows the audience to further immerse and soak up the feeling of being in the period.
Despite some of CGI aerial scenes having lost a little shine (they look too shiny) in the past 10yrs, Scorsese assembles a rich, handsome looking film, filled with beautiful period detail, including the eye-catching high fashions of the time. Howard Shore’s score also reflects the musical landscape of the time, working in tandem with the film to create an undercurrent that celebrates the movies of the golden era. Furthermore, Scorsese plays with colour palettes in an attempt to add subtle visual style to his film. Greens become blues in an attempt to reflect the development of colour in films throughout the periods the story covers.
Scorsese’s love for cinema bursts through in this intriguing drama of an extraordinary man’s battle to balance his drive for success with his decreasing sanity. Told with passion and vigour, The Aviator is further complemented by a fine supporting cast. It takes 2hrs and 50mins to watch it. I can honestly say the time flies. Pun intended. 4.5/5