A Reel View: The Aviator

A Reel View
The Aviator
by James M. Gullard

With "The Aviator," director Martin Scorsese embarked on his most ambitious project to date: the story of Howard Hughes, the legendary director and aviation enthusiast. Much like Scorsese himself, Hughes was a fearless visionary, stopping at nothing to make his mark on the world.
The film begins in 1927, year one of Howard's (Leonardo DiCaprio) massive "Hell's Angels" project. While shooting the World War I epic, everyone Howard is surrounded by assures him that the film will be impossible to accomplish, and rightly so. He uses 26 different cameras in the film's aerial finale. He screams at a meteorologist (Ian Holm) for 8 months when he cannot produce clouds for an airplane sequence. He even spends an extra $2 million to have the film re-shot for sound, a move that causes his accountant (John C. Reilly) more than a little apprehension.
After 3 years, the film is released, making Howard an instant success. He mingles with Hollywood's top celebrities at the infamous Coconut Grove nightclub, including the great Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), whom he eventually forms a rather public relationship with.
But Howard soon returns to his first love: aviation. He begins designing airplanes for TWA, and even buys the airline to ensure that his planes will be used. He jumps at the chance to test-fly one, and in the process, breaks the world record for speed. He also breaks a world record when he flies around the globe in just 4 days, attracting the attention of Pan Am President Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin), Howard's main competitor.
But as his aviation enthusiasm increases, Howard's personal life begins to collapse. His relationship with Hepburn crumbles. He grows suspicious of Trippe's interest in his affairs. His obsessive-compulsiveness, which he had relatively under control, starts to take over his life. The only comfort he can find is in flying. He keeps himself occupied designing a new plane for the military, a colossal transport nicknamed the Hercules. But this effort drastically drains his finances, taking a great deal of his sanity along as well.
"The Aviator," like many of Scorsese's recent films, attempts to pack as much information possible in just until 3 hours. Scorsese never seems to be able to decide as to which aspect of Howard Hughes's incredible life he wants to focus on, making the film feel uneven. Despite this, the scenes are well done, especially the re-creation of 1930s Hollywood and the amazingly photographed airplane sequences. The flowing problem can be attributed to John Logan's script, arguably the weakest element of the film.
But this film belongs to the actors. DiCaprio's performance is one of the best of his career, and hopefully will signify the end of his "pretty boy" roles. Blanchett's portrayal of Katharine Hepburn is spot-on, although it can seem very much like a caricature at times. Highlights also include Baldwin's Juan Trippe and the great Alan Alda as a corrupt senator who was bribed by Trippe into destroying Howard's business, as well as his reputation. The winner of 5 Academy Awards, "The Aviator" is a unique experience that will entertain fans of both old and new Hollywood, although it may require several popcorn refills to get through the film.
"The Aviator" is now available on DVD and video.