Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Aviator

Extolling the genius of Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes. Film-maker/Womanizer/Inventor/Aviator. Here was a life that was meant to be turned into a movie! Director Martin Scorsese’s take on this remarkable character focuses chronicles the golden period of his life when he revolutionized the aviation industry through his brilliant foresight and designs. With Leonardo DiCaprio delivering a stellar performance as the title character, this is a movie that truly inspires. Here was a man who, almost literally, aimed for the stars and DiCaprio makes us believe in him and root for him. His irrepressible enthusiasm rubs off on us as he successfully executes one bold decision after another, on his way to, among other things, breaking the flying speed record and building the world’s biggest airplane to date, out of wood!

Millionaire by the time he was eighteen after inheriting his father’s drill-bit industry, the Texas-born Hughes moved to Hollywood to make movies, not totally thrilled by the prospect of manufacturing drill-bits for the rest of his life! There he made “Hell’s Angels” in 1930, which at $3.8 million was the most expensive movie at that time. He followed this up with “Scarface” which was censored for its extreme violence and “The Outlaw” which attained notoriety for its focus on the sensational bosoms of its lead actress, Jane Russell.

Hughes also made news for the numerous women in his life, Hollywood starlets whom he couldn’t seem to get enough of. The movie focuses on the most prominent of these ladies, Katherine Hepburn, delightfully mimicked here by Cate Blanchett, and Ava Gardner, played with seductive appeal by Kate Beckinsale. Hughes’ relationship with Hepburn is particularly amusing with Hepburn’s loquacity overwhelming the usually audacious Hughes.

The movie also shows how Hughes’s severe Obsessive Compulsive Order (OCD) affected his life, making him a total recluse from public life for extended periods of time. DiCaprio gives a very touching portrayal of OCD here without succumbing to the temptation of overacting. Watch him in one scene where he cannot stop himself repeating a line over and over again – he is at once both shocked at what’s happening and disgusted with himself for being unable to control it.

Other notable performances include Alan Alda as a U.S. Senator in the pocket of Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin), Hughes’ competitor in the aviation industry. The always reliable John C. Reilly plays the harried Noah Dietrich who has to sort out the paperwork whenever Hughes decides to execute one of his seeming crazy ideas.

Scorsese is at his usual best here, impeccably guiding the movie through the vagaries of Hughes’ life without ever getting bogged down. Will this movie signal his first directing Oscar? Losing out in this category four times before, this prolific film-maker has also remarkably never delivered a Best Picture winner either. The Aviator may not be his greatest but deserves to win for sheer ambition, a hallmark of all of Scorsese’s works.


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