The Aviator Review


When you sit down for a Martin Scorsese film, it would be fair to expect some fast-talking Italians, profanity laced-tirades, extremely violent killings, and of course, The Rolling Stones. But in “The Aviator,” we get the glamorous stars of old Hollywood, some beautifully photographed flying sequences, a sweeping romance, and the music of the 1940s.

Oh, and a whole bunch of pee-filled bottles.

Shockingly, one of those doesn’t quite fit, but thankfully, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall quality of this Howard Hughes biopic. “The Aviator” is definitely a good film, but it could have been better with a sharper focus, and the end product is a bit frustrating considering what could have been.

During the time before and after World War II, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) was one of the most famous men in the world. “The Aviator” opens with Hughes finishing a film, Hell’s Angels, which is the most expensive film ever produced up to that time. After the film is completed, he begins a romantic relationship with Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-winning performance). We are also introduced to his love of flying. Hughes purchases TWA and engages in a fierce rivalry with Pan-Am and its owner, Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin). But Hughes is not a well man. He suffers from crippling OCD, which causes him to draw blood when washing his hands (among other things). Eventually, his disease sends away those he loves, puts his business in jeopardy, and drives him into seclusion.

“The Aviator” succeeds most when it focuses on aviation. The scenes with Hughes and Hepburn flying together are magical. The conflict that develops between TWA and Pan-Am is very compelling, and helps keep the meandering second act afloat, which leads to a powerful congressional hearing in which Hughes faces off with a corrupt congressman (Alan Alda).

The film is on less stable ground when dealing with Hughes’ illness. DiCaprio performs admirably here (as he does throughout the film), but it never feels like more than a subplot compared to the more interesting aspects of his life. And for a subplot, it takes up way too much time and kills a lot of the dramatic momentum of the romantic and adventurous aspects of the film. A few less scenes featuring Hughes staring at a stain on his shirt, a doorknob, or a footprint could have trimmed some from the nearly three-hour running time.

There is another subplot awkwardly added which focuses on his love affair with Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). We are expected to belive that Gardner rescues Hughes from his madness, but the character is suddenly thrust upon us. Gardner’s motives are never clear, and Beckinsale brings nothing to elevate these scenes.

Thankfully, there is more to this film than most biopics, primarily because Hughes is not lionized as many subjects are in their films. He’s a very flawed individual, even before he is consumed by OCD. He’s selfish and incredibly reckless (check out the scene in which he tries to break the air speed record for evidence of this).

Overall, “The Aviator” is successful but flawed. It’s an old-fashioned biopic that paints far too broad a picture. It works best as a traditional romance and adventure story, but fails when trying to penetrate the deteriorating psyche of the protagonist. Ultimately, Scorsese just tries to do too much. The effort is acknowledged and appreciated, for it’s certainly better than most to come out of the biopic genre in years). But it’s something of a disappointment. The Academy got it right when it awarded Best Picture to “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 instead.

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