The Aviator review by The Grim Ringler

The greatest compliment I can give this film is that its a rare occasion that, having seen the movie, I really wanted to read about the person it was about. I have a feeling that there are a lot of truths concerning Howard Hughes but I wonder how much of it is real and how much is concocted. What The Aviator does though is to filter the good and the bad, making sure that Americans remember Hughes not just for the madness that crept into his mind and life and overtook his achievements but also the great things he did as a man as well. For too long the monster has overshadowed the man. The Aviator is, to a degree, a horror film. Hughes is a man haunted by his own demons. Stalked by his fear of madness. Here is a man who has everything someone could want money, power, fame, women, looks, and the unwavering belief in his dreams that pushes him ever onward. Yet beneath it all lurk fears instilled by his mother (according to the film), fears that will plant the seeds of madness deep within him and soon flower. The world was against Howard Hughes but the only person that could truly destroy everything hed worked to build was himself.

A young playboy with dreams as big as all of existence, the film begins with a very young Howard Hughes being taught by his mother, in an uncomfortable bath scene, about disease. This lesson would prove to be one that would stay with Howard his entire life, imbedded so deeply into his mind that he felt compelled to take a personal bar of soap (the same soap his mother used) with him wherever he went. Obsessed with finishing an overly ambitious World War one aviation film, Howard is on the verge or ruin when he is just becoming his own man. He is handsome and rich, but he refuses to give up the dream of creating his epic film and, faced with losing everything by gambling on the movie, he takes the risk, refusing to give up on his epic Hells Angels. The film has become a laughingstock and its director, the young Howard Hughes, with it. These laughs quickly die though when, after several million dollars and years of filmmaking, the movie opens to rave reviews and uproarious applause. He has created, it is decided, a masterpiece. Unused to the fame and throngs of photographers, Hughes, escorting his actress Jean Harlow to the films premiere, is unable to speak about the film or do anything more than look bewildered and only able to give one word answers. He isnt a man that socially adept in the least but has made a sensation. When the film is finally released Howard is able to return to the two great loves of his life - aviation and filmmaking. His films create controversy and sensation; each successive one pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in film in the thirties and forties, but in his heart these films are a hobby, his first love always being aviation. Pushing the boundaries here as well as he develops a spy plane to be used in the war as he also begins challenging the rule of Pan Am airways with his own TWA. In his life he is unfocused and chaotic, not settling down but seemingly unable to, until that is he meets Katherine Hepburn, a woman with as powerful a personality as he has but able to shield him from the demons in him. Both of them are misfits but together create a safe haven that allows both to flourish. And it is during this time that Howard breaks the air-speed record in an experimental plane he had designed. Katherine though is unable to be truly happy for Howard though, fearing as much the publicity that will be pushed onto him now that hes done this as much as she seems to fear that the publicity will diminish from her now. Things begin to erode between Howard and Katherine here, she needing more attention than he can give her and he unable to put anything or anyone before his love of aviation. But even in their breakup Howard takes care of her, making sure that some nasty pictures of she and actor Spencer Tracy a married man dont see the light of day. Alone, he is back to his old ways, becoming a playboy again and becoming embroiled in the needless drama of trying to juggle women. Meanwhile his friendly rivalry with Pan Am airlines has taken a dark turn, Howards desire to branch out to international travel becoming a large enough threat that the head of Pan Am has a senator he is friendly with begin investigating the millionaire and all of his endeavors. And these are the dark times for Howard Hughes. His romantic relationships are crumbling, his two great aviation projects the spy plane and a personnel and equipment carrier called the Hercules (you might know it as the Spruce Goose) both being cancelled by the military for being over budget and useless in a war that has just ended. The madness begins to creep in on Howard and it finally takes him into its maw, forcing him into seclusion as he hides away in his personal theater, dailies of his films constantly running. Unable to even part with his urine, as he collects it in milk bottles for some unknown purpose. Even Katherine cannot talk him out of his isolation. But when he is subpoenaed to appear before a subcommittee that is pushing to ruin Howard and to make Pan Am the official air carrier for America, Howard is able to find the strength to reach out for help. With the help of a lover Eva Gardener he is able to clean himself up and return to public life for a trial that will rock America and that will put not only his accomplishments and failures on trial before the country, but his very life. And though it may be one of his final hours as an American hero, Howard Hughes makes the most of it, showing why the nation had fallen in love with him as a hero in the first place

This movie works on so many levels its incredible. The fact that director Scorsese used the only flight the Hercules made it was never to take to the air again, its great body too imposing to be a viable aircraft as a triumph and not a failure, is testament to the fact that this film doesnt want to further destroy a man that has become more myth than fact, but to celebrate the many things he was able to do, despite the madness that lay dormant in him. Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant in a role that seems at surface value to be a powder piece. You get to play a renowned playboy that had looks, talent, wealth, and women. A man that was so deeply entrenched into the middle of the century that he was almost godlike. But beneath that is the madness, which sneaks out in facial and vocal tics that fight them though he tries, he can never conquer. DiCaprio gives himself completely to the character and to his director, delving deeply into the dark side of Hughes as well as the genius. Towards the end of the film, during the CBA hearings the exchanges between Alan Alda and DiCaprio are brilliant, the two of them trading barbs until Hughes finally outwits the senator. And while all the actors in The Aviator get high marks for their performances, the other standout is Cate Blanchett, whose portrayal of Katharine Hepburn is tremendous, not just mimicking but BECOMING this renowned actress. She too seems to suffer her own madness, but where Howard cannot ever hope to control his, Kates always seems to be just under her power, tamed but still wild and focused into her acting. And the love between Kate and Howard feels honest, feels real. Its wonderful too to see Martin Scorsese also come into his own as Steven Spielberg has. Both have such strong, distinctive styles, yet they are both learning to tame themselves for the betterment of the film. This is still a marvelously directed film the dogfight sequences early on during the shooting of Hells Angels, the slow burning madness of Howard, and the awful inferno of photographers that await him at the big premiere of his magnum opus are all stunning to behold but Scorsese doesnt over-direct, he lets the actors push the film forward and trusts them to make us care for the characters and to pull us into the film. While I am not so bold as to say this is his best film, or even the best film of the year, this is an amazing film and one of Scorseses best.

If there is a fault here its that there is so much to digest, so much of Howard and then so much of Kate, that it gets hard to keep everything down. The film feels long towards the end, and even telling as much of the story of this mans life as he does, we still dont see the decline but are left on its doorstep. The problem I have is that some wont know what becomes of Howard unless they do more research and frankly, a lot of us wont. I think it would have served the film well to have had a coda that at least explains that the Hercules would never fly again and that Howard would lose his fight against insanity. This doesnt undercut the work the man did but shows what became of him. And as far as I am concerned, you cannot take away the achievements of this man because even though he lost out to insanity, the struggles he must have fought to create and become all he did is astronomical.

Its hard to say where the Oscar race will cut this year. I sense more indie movie wins this year as Hollywood tries to show its hip and tries to change with the times. Its nice to see Hollywood reward the smaller films as its neglected they and their makers for far too long, but I hope that The Aviator at least earns some nominations. While not the best film of the year, it is a beautiful work and Howard and his madness will haunt the viewer well after they have left the theater or turned the film off. Great movie all around.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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