Scorsese's Hughes Biopic is no Spruce Goose
Mention the name Howard Hughes and I would bet most people will say he was an eccentric millionaire who ended up a recluse. And to some degree that is true and is certainly how his life ended, but Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" is a movie more interested with Hughes's life before his inner demons started to dominate him. As such "The Aviator" is about Howard Hughes's love of women, making movies and fascination with aviation all of which are covered admirably in this epic biopic which brings to life the glamour and obsession of Hughes's millionaire lifestyle.
Having inherited both his father's fortune and his drill bit business, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio - Catch Me If You Can) burst onto the scene at just the age of 25 when he produced "Hell's Angels" the most expensive movie of the era and which took 3 years to make thanks to various difficulties and re-shoots. Renowned for his eccentricities as well of his interest in the fairer sex, Hughes went on to become one of the most influential men in early aviation history building bigger and better planes whilst setting records, nearly killing himself indulging his passion for flying.
In many ways "The Aviator" feels like Scorsese's eulogy to the golden era of Hollywood, recreating the decadence and excess of the period and in doing so making for a captivating 170 minutes of visual pleasure. The attention to detail when recreating the golden era is magnificent, with scene after scene filled with opulent sets and realistic costumes; each perfectly recreated to add legitimacy to the story. The attention to detail extends to all aspects of the movie including numerous camera techniques as well as the vintage style soundtrack. For example quite often greens have a slight bluish hue to them such as the golf course and it's intentionally so as Scorsese recreates the look of movies from that era which often had this saturated effect.
It is also the fact that often Scorsese opts for showing old news reel style footage, some of which are original and edited to feature DiCaprio or wholly recreated for the movie. Everything about "The Aviator" has the golden era feel and magic about it making it completely enchanting from beginning to end as even when it feels like nothing is going on you are mesmerised by the sets and everything else which is happening in the background.
One of the real pleasures of "The Aviator" is that it doesn't feel like a traditional biopic and thanks to Hughes's larger than life persona and his eventful life it often feels like you are watching a fictional drama rather than a re-enactment. When you see Hughes crash a plane not once but twice, one of which that nearly kills him, it feels like the perfect elements for a well shot fictional drama but these things did happen along with the fact that for all his life Hughes suffered with a type of OCD which lead to what appear to be nervous breakdowns and his reclusive tendencies. Without a doubt "The Aviator" is one of the most interesting biopics thanks to all the events in Hughes's life but like others it also sparks an interest which makes you want to know more about the man.
As for the performances well Leonardo DiCaprio stands out as the young Howard. In a performance which in my opinion cements DiCaprio's claims for being one of the best actors from his generation as he creates a character so believable both in his frailties but also in a man who obsessed on doing things his way that you literally can't take your eyes of him much in the same manner as the likes of Marlon Brando in his heyday. What often can make or break a biopic for me is whether or not the lead actor is convincing or not, well in this case DiCaprio is more than convincing and is so good that it doesn't feel like you are watching him act rather than watching him become. From the big scenes to the miniscule moments of despair DiCaprio is first class and ignores any opportunity to over cook his performance.
Opposite DiCaprio for much of the movie is Cate Blanchett who has the unenviable task of recreating the character of Katharine Hepburn, a woman who some would say was nearly as eccentric as Hughes himself. Blanchett I have to say has not always been one of my favourite actresses but here she could change anyone's mind. Her performance rivals that of DiCaprio's for authenticity and brings everything from the New England accent through to her incessant taking to life in a wonderfully large performance, but not to the extent it feels like a caricature. The pairing of DiCaprio and Blanchett is so convincing that if the movie had just focussed on their insular relationship it would have been just as fascinating.
Away from the main roles "The Aviator" is full of brilliant supporting performances with the likes of John C. Reilly, Kate Beckinsale, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin and even Gwen Stefani all making the movie's recreation of the era feel credible. Out of these Reilly stands out as Hughes's right hand man who although is often put upon by his eccentric boss is loyal through to the end. My only criticism of a supporting performance is that from Jude Law who is the only star who I say over performs in his small role as Errol Flynn. But it's a small criticism of an otherwise set of brilliant performances from both the lead and supporting stars.
As is normal with most Scorsese master pieces the musical score is pivotal to how the movie plays and Howard Shore's lively score fits perfectly with not only recreating the era but also in telling the story. With many recognizable pieces from the likes of Glenn Miller, George Gershwin as well as Artie Shaw it is certainly a wonderful trip down memory lane. But away from the more noticeable pieces there is a collection of wonderful orchestral movements which swoop and fly along with the action making it feel both exhilarating and emotional in the right places.
Like many of Scorsese's movies such as "Gangs of New York", "The Aviator" is a long movie, and at just short of 3 hours you would expect it to be a little bum numbing but it's not for one second. Scorsese is a master of pacing, keeping everything moving at a perfect rate with the occasional lull for you to take everything in. It certainly doesn't feel overly long or dragged out but packed from start to finish and with the subject matter of Howard Hughes who himself lived some what may say an eventful and eccentric life it would be hard to fall short of scenes to include.
What this all boils down to it that "The Aviator" is undeniably one of the most entertaining and authentic feeling biopics I have watched in a few years. It manages to take the life of someone who although I had heard of knew little about but delivered a beautifully crafted movie which was so entertaining that time just passed unnoticed as I became immersed in the most wonderful story of the eccentric Howard Hughes, one which is both exciting, interesting as well as slightly touching. On top of this it features some top notch performances from a very impressive cast of A-listers. If you like biopics or movies which recreate that golden era of Hollywood excess then "The Aviator" will be right up your street.