January 5, 2005 -- “The Aviator” is one of the best films of 2004, slick, star-studded and with top-notch writing, direction and production values. It is a compelling, entertaining drama. It should be a strong contender for a best-picture Oscar.
Award-winning director Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York”) helms this epic film about one of America's most intriguing characters of the 20th century, Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (“Catch Me if You Can”). Hughes turned a small fortune into one of the world's largest fortunes by making movies, airplanes and being a pioneer in commercial air travel and aerospace technology. He did this all despite being a daring risk-taker. He gambled everything on his ground-breaking movie “Hells Angels” (it was a movie about airplanes, not motorcycles). He gambled everything again on his upstart airline company, Trans-World Airways.
The film captures Hughes' early life as a fearless pilot and a businessman who was willing to risk everything on a film, or an airplane. It also captures his love of flying, his passion for movies and how he was driven to be a perfectionist. It also details the early stages of his obsessive-compulsive disorder that was to dominate his later life. DiCaprio gives a strong performance as Hughes, while Cate Blanchett (“Lord of the Rings”) gives a knockout performance as legendary movie star Katharine Hepburn.
Alan Alda (of the “M.A.S.H.” TV series) and Alec Baldwin (“The Cooler”) give excellent performances as heavies in the film. Alda plays U.S. Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, a man in the hip pocket of Pan American Airways owner Juan Trippe (Baldwin). Brewster tries to knock Hughes' Trans-World Airways out of competition with Pan-Am by passing legislation to limit the availability of overseas air routes. Hughes must go to Washington to face Brewster in hearings in order to save his business empire. He must do this at a time when he is beginning to suffer severely from the crippling effects of his obsessive-compulsive disorder. This same affliction would later cause him to become a recluse for the remainder of his life.
This should be a strong contender for an Academy Best Picture Award this year since it portrays Hughes as a lot of Hollywood folks would like to think of themselves, as fearless outsiders in the film industry. The only Oscar downside is a hilarious scene when Hughes puts down rich left-wing artistic types at the Hepburn home. The film includes a lot of dazzling special effects, including a horrendous plane crash, the liftoff of the Hughes designed-and-piloted Spruce Goose and other great aviation scenes. The cinematography, by Robert Richardson (“Kill Bill Volume 2”), is excellent. The sets and costumes are stylish. But most of all, this is a compelling portrait of a fascinating man. This film rates an A.
For more information on this film, including the story (synopsis), the talent (cast), the production (overview, making the film, screenplay, casting, director, special effects, editor, production designer, costume designer, music, producers) trailer, acclaim, click on this link to the official home page of The Aviator.