Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
2 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
“Some men dream the future. He built it.”
Producer’s synopsis: “‘The Aviator,’ directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan, tells the story of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), the eccentric billionaire industrialist and Hollywood film mogul, famous for romancing some of the world’s most beautiful women. The drama recounts the years of his life from the late 1920s through the 1940s, an epoch when Hughes was directing and producing Hollywood movies and test flying innovative aircrafts he designed and created.”
High flying adorned but not adored is the new biography picture on Howard Hughes by long time director Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Gangs of New York). The aviator Scorsese depicts here is a man who operates with vision and entrepreneurial skills—and meets with large amounts of worldly success—but is also one with his fair share of weaknesses and problems.
The bulk of this story begins in 1927 Hollywood with Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the age of twenty-six directing his war film “Hell’s Angels.” After inheriting a large sum of money after his parents’ death, Hughes goes beyond filmmaking to pursue an ambitious career in developing and building airplanes. The conflict of the story eventually develops when Hughes buys TWA and must battle Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) of Pan Am Airlines and Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) who seem to have a monopoly on the airline business.
Like his other films, Scorsese is not so much interested in plot as he is with character. “Raging Bull” dealt with a boxer’s career, but dealt more so with his personal life. In the Aviator, we see the career highlights of Howard Hughes, but also see his failed romances with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Eva Gardner (Kate Beckinsale)—although some friendship with them is maintained. Further, we see a Howard Hughes who is a little obsessive/compulsive, who struggles with hearing problems and even suffers from schizophrenia. It seems that all of his achievements that are presented are tempered by some kind of failure he also experienced.
The most off-putting aspect of this film is the repeated use of the God’s name used in vain followed by the word “damn.” Over and over, and by various characters, we are assaulted with this word. The Lord’s name is also taken in vain a few times, as well as one instance of the “f” word. There are a few moments of nudity from behind involving Hughes, first as a young boy being bathed by his mother, and then later when he locks himself in his room and has gone a bit mad. (This scene also includes an unpleasant image of numbers of bottles filled with urine.) There is a moment with Hughes and Hepburn kissing leading to an implication of them sleeping together, but none of it is shown.
Some interesting directorial motifs that Scorsese has included involve bright light bulbs, animal flesh and Hughes’ obsession with cleanliness—especially with his hands. Hand washing is such a personal thing to Hughes that at one moment he is unwilling to lend a hand to a crippled man because it would interrupt his hand washing. In another moment, he loses his appetite for his steak after Errol Flynn (Jude Law) picks a small pea off of his plate and eats it. We see that Hughes is disgusted and will not eat.
But unlike “Raging Bull,” Scorsese has given us a protagonist that we can ultimately find likeable and partially respect. Although this character has personal flaws, we believe he is doing the right thing by speaking out against Senator Brewster and Juan Trippe. We can also find him likeable because he is presented as a kind of underdog who worked his way up, making many personal risks along the way. Some may disagree that Howard Hughes was actually this kind of everyman, blue-collar kind of worker. Nevertheless, where “Raging Bull” gives us a tragic character who thinks he’s great, here we have a kind of heroic character who thinks at times he is losing his mind.
This film is lavishly produced with several big stars and lots of CGI, but in the end isn’t terribly engaging. Earlier films of Scorsese made on a much smaller scale tended to be more captivating, but these big stories—even though they’re made more personal—don’t provide as much interest. Some of it is pretty impressive, but isn’t necessarily recommended.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Mild