Total Film - Januar 2005

Review: The Aviator



There's verve, style and exceptional camerawork - that's pure Scorsese

by Tony Horkins


The man is either a genius whose insatiable appetite for perfection drives him relentlesly onwards, or a megalomaniacal egoist whose unswerving singular vision is obsolete in the modern age....

But enough about Martin Scorsese. Howard Hughes, meanwhile, packed enough drama into his 70 years for several lifetimes, leaving abundant biographical material for any director to sink his teeth into. Scosese has bitten down hard. If there's one thing he understands, it's obsession; witness the epic, 20-odd-years battle to make 'Gangs of New York' or the self-sabotaging manias of his on-screen alter-ego De Niro in 'New York, New York' and 'The King of Comedy'. And, boy, was Hughes obsessed - even if Scorsese can only explore this rather than explain it...

Sensibly, he telescopes the story, focusing from the late '20a to early '40s, the years in which Hughes went from filmmaker to flyer to mentally disturbed hermit, via periods as a playboy, CIA assistant and push-up bra designer ("It's all just engineering," he explains).

A frankly creepy opening depicts the seven-year-old Sonny (as he was then known) being scrubbed down in a tin bath by his glamorous mother, who instils in him an obsession (that word again) with cleanliness and germs that would remain until death.

Surprisingly, this is 'The Aviator''s only reference to Hughes' formative years. Within minutes, we're amid the madness on the set of 'Hell's Angels', his extravagant directorial debut. The story of two RAF fighter pilots trying to woo the same woman during World War One, 'Angels' allowed him to indulge his love of flying and filmmaking and cost a bomb; the 4$-million production taking three years to complete. It's during these scenes we first glimpse the imposing character Hughes quickly became and learn to share his thrill at flying (the aerial sequences are superb throughout.)

We also see if DiCaprio can cut it. Overshadowed by Daniel Day-Lewis' grandstanding turn in 'Gangs', the young star has a point to prove. He makes it with Úlan. Ambitious, arrogant, youthful, rich, sexy, powerful... Hey, you could say it's hardly a stretch, but despite initial reservations about the amount of gravitas he can bring to the role (the looks about 12 years old in the opening scenes), DiCaprio ably conveys a whirlwind of energy and charisma, completely convincing as a man who pushed, pulled and bullied boundaries to always get his own way. From the get-go, you're caught up in DiCaprio/Hughes unique dynamism and despite a near three-hour running time, you'll still be gripped come the closing credits. Wether or not Leo's post-'Titanic' fanbase will be able to connect with his creation is debateable, but the Academy should be interested.

Will the film itself snare Scorsese his long longed-far gong? After 'Gangs'' 10 noms/no wins whitewash, all bets are off, but this is the sort of prestige-picture Oscar voters traditionally love. It would also be true to tradition if he were to win for a movie which is by no means his best work; think Al Pacino for 'Scent of a Woman' or Robert Redford for 'Ordinary People'. 'The Aviator' is superior to either of those movies, but it does reflect the director's admission that the bigger the budget, the more conservative you must be. The gore of 'Gangs' was widely thought to have harmed his Best Director chances and he takes no equivalent risk here; Hughes' bisexuality, for example, is ignored.

Still, there's verve, style and exceptional camerawork that is pure Scorsese and he's attracted an extraordinary cast, from the ever-excellent John C. Reilly (as Hughes' right-hand man) to the ubiquitous Jude Law, who cameos as Errol Flynn. The stunning Kate Beckinsale is somewhat underused (and over made-up) as Ava Gardner, but Cate Blanchett is brilliant as another of Hughes' movie-star lovers, Katherine Hepburn, oozing an imperious air of Hollywood royality (anyone else up for Best Supporting Actress might as well skip the ceremony). And there are meaty villainous turn from Alec Baldwin, as Howard's nemesis Juan Trippe (owner of rival airline Pan Am), and Alan Alda, as corrupt, Hughes-hating senator Ralph Owen Brewster.

The biggest disappointment is how little the film sheds on what drove his subject. Although it does touch on the roots of his various compulsions, there's no answer as to why he was so motivated to explore the sky. But while there my be no Rosebud for this Citizen Plane, 'The Aviator' still takes you on a thrilling ride.