The Aviator (2004)

(In theaters, December 2004) It’s always a pleasure to see Martin Scorsese at work again, and he does much to please both fans and general audiences with this Howard Hughes biography. Leonardo DeCaprio may not be such a good casting choice as Hughes (he look too frail and, later, far too young), but his performance is impressive. Mogul in most sense of the terms, the historical figure of Hughes is unequalled when it comes to the richness of available dramatic material: His love life was a parade of celebrities, his legal battles were legendary and his personal problems were, shall we say, gigantic. The Aviator is seldom as absorbing as when it races through Hugues’ good days as a fascination with Hollywood leads him to a life-long passion for airplanes and then on to the civil aviation business. The script has its weaknesses, but they’re often paved over by a Casino-strength Scorsese ably assisted by top-notch editing. The Aviator runs into repetitive sequences later on, as Hugues’ descent in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders gets the better of a grander-than-life character. Many sequences then run too long, and keep on making a point long after which it’s been understood. (Ironically, the film focuses too much on Hughes’ disorders to give a more complete picture of his personality as a businessman, a playboy and an inventor: I wonder if it hadn’t been better to stick to the accepted chronology of Hughes’ life, in which his worst OCD episodes developed much later in life) Still, The Aviator still leaves an impression of superior film-making. Blame Cate Blanchett, whose dynamite interpretation of Katharine Hepburn deserves both an Oscar and a separate biopic of its own. (Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner is also quite good, but Gwen Stephani is over-hyped as Jean Harlow) Blame the seamless visual effects. Blame the Beverly Hills crash sequence, itself a spectacular action scene. Blame the lavish production. But perhaps best of all, blame a director who understands how to portray a character who finds deep joy while flying in a film titled, indeed, The Aviator.

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