Friday, October 12, 2012

The Aviator

Martin Scorsese is a true artist. Not only can he tell a story interestingly and without a hint of cheese, but he keeps getting better and better (in theory) with each movie he makes. The Aviator ranks up there with some of his best work.

The story of Howard Hughes and his meteoric rise from a kid who inherited a fortune, became a major Hollywood player, transitioned into a legend in the aviation industry then succumbed to mental illness. It's a tragic tale, but one worth telling.
We first see young Howard Hughes being bathed by his mentally unbalanced mother, being told that no matter how safe he thinks he is, he's not. We then flash forward to the late 1920s, and newly rich Howard Hughes (played to the hilt by Leonardo DiCaprio) who is embarking on making the most realistic WWI film ever, Hell's Angels, with an unheard of 26 cameras filming the aerial dogfight scenes at the same time. It took him over 3 years to complete the film (he shot the whole film, then decided to shoot it all over again once the studios started using sound in movies) and a cost of $4m (the most expensive movie ever made at that point in time), and if it failed it would mean that Howard's fortune was squandered on an ego trip. Well, the film was a huge hit and he became a popular man, not only for making two more notorious films (Scar-Face was criticized for it's depictions of life-like violence, and The Outlaw which prominently featured "mamaries"), but he because his interest in airplane design made him one of the wealthiest men of his time. He also dated almost every Hollywood starlet to come down the pike, including Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani), Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). However, when it comes down to his ideas for airplane design some thought he was a true genius and some were convinced that they were the ravings of a madman who suffered from obsessive/compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
Scorsese dives into this and comes out on top. We see that while everyone around him thinks he's nuts, what he accomplished for the aviation business is still felt in the world today. We also see him through some rough times, like spending millions of dollars on designing spy planes that never worked (Hughes almost died in a crash during a test flight), purchasing TWA and keeping it in business through a financial drought when Pan Am tried to buy him out, and sinking his fortune into Hercules, a massive 5-story tall military plane with a wingspan greater than a football field that was primarily made of wood (known as the Spruce Goose by competitors). And during all this time he suffers with (and overcomes) his mental problems where he hears voices, sees people that aren't there, constantly washes his hands and thinks everything is dirty which results in him locking himself in a room for months with no clothes while urinating in milk bottles.

It's a rough film filled with great performances, amazing special FX (the crash scene has to be seen to be believed), a wonderful script (by John Logan, who wrote Gladiator and Star Trek: Nemesis), flashy direction that doesn't go overboard and plenty of drama to go around. It's never boring (even though it runs for over 3 hours) and even during the mundane scenes it manages to tell its story in an interesting way (something that should've been done in Alexander).
But I do have some problems. For one, the movie starts with that scene between young Howard and his mother, then flashes forward to when he's making Hell's Angels. We never get to see what it was about the movies and airplanes that fascinated him so much as a child. We just see him already into them. It would have been nice to get some background on that (all we get is that he comes from mentally disturbed parents). It’s a minor gripe, nothing much.

Easily one of the best pictures of the year and one worth checking out!

4.5 out of 5

*written 12/26/04

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