Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Alan Alda, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 169 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence
The tagline proudly exclaims, “Some men dream of the future. He built it.” It is not a lie. The name Howard Hughes is one probably known best by older generations, but the new biopic from Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) may change all that. Clocking in at nearly three hours, not a minute is wasted as the admittedly quite amazing and very vivid life of Hughes is explored, both in the most public of his accomplishments and the most personal of his demons. Reminiscent of another famous biopic, Citizen Kane, it begins with Hughes as a boy, being warned of germs by his mother. His obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobia of germs would later take a much more central role in his life as he would grow.
Then, the story jumps right into the production of Hell’s Angels. Only 21, the already rich Hughes (his father was an inventor) is directing his first film, a World War I epic. At one point, in order to get the camera shots he wants, dozens of fighter planes are whisked off into the air, with Hughes in one. It is the first aerial sequence of the film, and as Hughes stands up with his portable camera in hand in his flying vintage plane, a love for both aviation and film-making is evident, and it is a great ode to not only Howard Hughes but to all those who will risk everything for what they love to do. It is also Scorsese winking at his own heroes, and perhaps his own generation, too.
The film spans from the roaring 20s to the war torn 40s, and each age is recounted in vivid detail. The 20s in are particularly amazing, as singers croon to vast crowds of bygone partiers and Hollywood elite. It is almost as if the film were an actual time-capsule, capturing images that are not only recreated but authentic. Still, the story never becomes bogged down by the huge budget or grand visuals, and Hughes life only becomes more complex as the film continues. It is only in the last hour, really, that the film stumbles at all, as The Aviator ventures into the already much traveled territory of a biopic: the court battle. Here, lead by an appropriately repulsive Alan Alda as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, Hughes is attacked by a corrupt system for, ironically, charges of corruption.
That’s not to say any interest is lost, though, and if the greatest complaint of a film is that it is only the best at something that has been done before rather than good at something startling new, then it is not too severe of a complaint at all. In fact, some of what transpires within these hearings is enough to inspire an urge to find the actual old news reels of the genuine Howard Hughes hearings and to see every last detail of what was actually said. That is a great strength of the film overall, as everything it shows is just enough to give depth to the human character of Hughes while also enough to beckon one to seek out more long after the film is over. Hughes is a fascinating person, really, framed by a fascinating movie.
Critic’s Conclusion: The Aviator is one of the best films of the year, as well as one of the best films in the long and varied career of director Martin Scorsese. Human but also epic, it is likely to be a contender at the Oscars this year. Thus, it should be around for a while, which is perfect as this is one not to miss.