You will believe one compusively-obsessed genius changed modern air travel as we know it; too bad he isn’t still alive to figure out how the airlines can profit from it.
Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an oil industry tycoon with big dreams and aspirations to make the most realistic war picture seen to date. With only his money and ambition to see him through, Hughes foresight takes him from Hollywood (for his love of movies) to purchasing an airline (for his love of flying) and designing the next advancement of passenger flight. Hughes also meets a few of Hollywood’s starlets along the way, including Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), but his win-at-all-costs attitude also makes him a few enemies, such as Pan Am owner Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) and Trippe’s friend Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda). In the end, would the world remember Howard Hughes for his eccentricities or his innovation?
This biopic of Howard Hughes starts with Hughes’ sights set on the next big thing in Hollywood and ends in his attempt to prove to the world that his ‘Spruce Goose’ would really fly. There are no mysteries here as to the plot (it’s all in the history books), but the microscope is turned on Hughes himself to reveal a man who’s shortcomings may have been his biggest asset and certainly were his private hell. Love him as an actor or hate him, Leonardo DiCaprio pulls it off as Hughes on top of the world and hidden from public view.
Director Martin Scorsese also guided the production to show audiences what it was that Hughes was after, mostly by putting the audience in Hughes’ seat for much of the film. Whether breaking speed records, filming an arial stunt show in the middle of a thunderstorm, or taping off rooms to avoid germs, viewers feel the triumph of success and the frustration of a psychological disorder. Scorsese makes it all accessable so the audience can understand what it was to be the man Howard Hughes was; while he was less successful with Bringing Out the Dead, ask yourself what audiences would rather experience: racing planes for speed records or driving an ambulence on the night shift?
Scorsese and DiCaprio also have plenty of Hollywood star power to draw on as well. Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn is a transformation of pure acting ability; this one’s worth an Oscar(tm), folks. Other standouts in the cast include Ian Holm as Professor Fitz, a meteorologist Hughes hires early on that respects the man but always looks like his about to die horribly on the spot for whatever Hughes puts him through. And in no less than his sixth film this year, Jude Law’s Errol Flynn is dead-on and, to paraphrase Mr. Law’s own words, captures the entire history of Flynn in his three minutes of screen time (smoking, drinking, womanizing, fighting, etc).
With the addition of some truly compelling computer CGI used to enhance the story rather than merely wow, The Aviator soars as a biopic that channels historical accuracy with high adventure and drama. The result is a film audiences can enjoy and will want to see while while painting a realistic view of a flawed but towering human being and all the drama therein.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)