The Aviator


“There’s Howard Hughes in blue suede shoes, smiling at the majorettes smoking Winston cigarettes.”
Genesis, Broadway Melody of 1974

Before going into self-imposed Q-U-A-R-A-N-T-I-N-E, Howard Hughes was America’s first billionaire, a Hollywood producer who made the tabloid headlines as much as the starlets of his movies and a pioneer of the air travel business. Taking control of his Texan family’s “drill bits” fortune as a young man, he invests it in the World War I flick “Hell’s Angels”, which is “almost as expensive as the real war” but becomes a big hit. Hughes takes the expertise acquired during the three year (!) shoot to design the fastest plane in the world, buy himself an airline and win contracts with the US Air Force. He works hard and he plays hard, hitting the Coconut Grove every other night with some of the most gorgeous women in the world. It would be a dream life, if Hughes wasn’t slowly but surely losing his mind…

This is Martin Scorsese at his most epic, alas bigger doesn’t mean better. A supporting cast that includes such diverse performers as Jude Law, Rufus Wainwright (singing on the big screen for the first time since ”Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller”!), Willem Dafoe and Gwen Stefani sounds awesome, but most of these turn out to barely be cameos. Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly, Kate Beckinsale and Ian Holm get more screen time, but they still don’t make a huge impression. Cate (Blanchett) as Kate (Hepburn) and Alan Alda as a corrupted senator are entertaining enough, but they’re more caricatures than full-fledged characters. Even Leonardo DiCaprio, who is in every scene as Howard Hughes, doesn’t get a strong character arc. He swings wildly between charismatic bravado and obsessive-compulsive creepiness and is convincing at both, but at the end of the day we understand what made the man tick no more than we did before watching the film.

“The Aviator” plays like Citizen Kane overblown and glossed into almost Top Gun, with a soundtrack seemingly picked from Woody Allen’s old jazz records collection and a protagonist whose eccentricities are ultimately not that fascinating. Why do the Howard Hughes story anyway? Why should we care? Why does Scorsese? I can see why he’d be into the old Hollywood stuff and there are some pretty cool aviation scenes (the bloody crash into Beverly Hills instantly comes to mind). But why would we want to watch a guy ramble on like a broken record, wash his hands over and over and piss in milk bottles? It’s a great showcase for DiCaprio, I guess, then again he did the obsessive/paranoid thing even better in the underrated The Beach.

Between this and Gangs of New York, I hope Scorsese’s had enough of the big Miramax Oscar machines. How about a badass little thriller next time, Marty?