Film-Forward Review: [THE AVIATOR]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes
Photo: Miramax

Directed by: Martin Scorsese.
Produced by: Sandy Climan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charles Evans Jr., Graham King, Michael Mann.
Written by: John Logan.
Director of Photography: Robert Richardson.
Edited by: Thelma Schoonmaker.
Music by: Howard Shore.
Released by: Miramax/Warner Brothers.
Country of Origin: USA. 169 min. Rated: PG-13.
With: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Gwen Stefani, Ian Holm & Alan Alda.

DVD Features: Disc one - Commentary by director Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker & producer Michael Mann. Disc two - Deleted scene: Howard Tells Ava About His Car Accident; “A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator;” “The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History;” Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes, a History Channel documentary; The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese & Hughes' Widow Terry Moore; An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio & Alan Alda; The Visual Effects of The Aviator; Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti (Production Designer); Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell; The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator; Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore; The Wainwright Family: Loudon, Rufus and Martha; The Aviator Soundtrack Spot; Still gallery.

Martin Scorsese's epic biography of billionaire Howard Hughes begins with a scene from his childhood in Houston where Hughes is given his own rosebud, the key to screenwriter John Logan's portrayal of the future eccentric: the word "quarantine." While being bathed by his mother, he is drilled into spelling the word and admonished to stay away from others during a cholera outbreak.

Flash forward to the 1920s, Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), now a young man, is directing his first film, the chaotic and costly production of Hell's Angels (something of which Scorsese should know first-hand). Life in Hollywood is centered on the Coconut Grove, depicted here as a nightclub straight out of a Cecil B. DeMille film. Film buffs will especially enjoy the censorship battles between Production Code enforcer Joseph Breen (Edward Herrman) and Hughes over his Western, The Outlaw, in which he helped design a bra to give star Jane Russell more of a lift. Crosscutting with his tinsel town escapades are episodes of Hughes as an aerial innovator and wunderkind, including two spectacular aerial sequences, both with Hughes acting as a test pilot. One in particular, where Hughes' plane free falls, would make Irwin Allen proud.

Of all the women in Hughes' life, the one central to the film is Katherine Hepburn. It's a thankless task for any actor to take on the role of such a distinctive icon. With a clipped Yankee accent and for every "Golly" uttered, you are constantly aware that Cate Blanchett is impersonating rather than acting. Her role is not helped by the expositional dialogue. It's not until the film's second half that the character takes over and the accent and mannerisms become less obvious. Adding flesh and bones to what would otherwise be a sketch, Hepburn is depicted here just as determined, stubborn and ambitious as Hughes. Kate Beckinsale, who as Ava Gardner doesn't have to carry as much baggage, is instead a tough-talking dame who repeatedly reminds Hughes (and the audience) that she can take of herself.

Slightly miscast, baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio brings a Peter Pan quality to Hughes. The more he furrows his brow, the more boyishly petulant he becomes. Although he bears a resemblance to Hughes, he pleads more than commands his film crew and aviation engineers. In his scenes with Blanchett, DiCaprio quietly tags along like a puppy dog. They come across more like brother and sister than impassioned lovers.

Like many biopics, the pace and story line sags a bit in the third act as the ending becomes more and more apparent (it doesn't help that Hughes is more famous for the obsessive-compulsive behavior of his later years). One scene in particular - Hughes holed up in his office, sealing himself off from the world - goes on far too long. For such a dramatic life, the film ends on a strangely anti-climatic note. And many of its characters are paper-thin, from a slimy senator (Alan Alda) to a befuddled professor (Ian Holm). But for the most part, thanks to the fascinating subject and some frenetically-paced and visually dazzling scenes, The Aviator is intermittently compelling. Kent Turner
December 17, 2004

DVD Extras: The 12-minute making-of documentary is a must-see with fast-paced action and the film’s Oscar-winning cinematography intertwined with interviews of cast and crew members, plus footage from the set. The History Channel piece, although well made, is 45-minutes long and does not mention the film, only the history of Howard Hughes, so if the film is your interest go for "The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History." It is much shorter and engaging, and it does an artful job of using footage from the film. Both extras on obsessive-compulsive disorder are informative while creating a better understanding and sympathy for Howard Hughes. The first is more informative, while the panel discussion is more personal, and since there is a bit of repetition the viewer might find that watching one suffices. The deleted scene is less impressive - it is very brief and only a few sentences of dialogue do not appear in the final cut.

The other extras all touch on specific aspects of the film, containing a large amount of detailed information in about 10 minutes. Particularly interesting is the visual effects extra, where the special effects supervisor explains how the plane crash in Beverly Hills was reconstructed. However, very little information is revealed in the commentary that is not touched upon in the other segments; therefore, it would be more convenient to watch the special features disc, with more complete information given in a shorter time, than to re-watch the entire three-hour movie with this commentary. If general knowledge of The Aviator is what you want, "A Life Without Limits" will supply background on all aspects of the film. Emily Genzlinger
July 17, 2005



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