The Aviator (2004)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda
The story of Howard Hughes (DiCaprio) from his early days as a director through his rise as an aviation icon.
This 2004 film was written by John Logan (Hugo) and directed by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street). This story spent a lot of time in development. Originally, Disney owned the material and planned to have Michael Mann direct the film. After his film The Insider failed to cash in at the box office, Disney put the project on the market. New Line Cinema quickly picked up the project and replaced Mann with Scorsese, who had just directed Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) in Gangs of New York. As of today, this movie is the second of five feature films Scorsese and DiCaprio have made together. The cast of The Aviator also features Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), John C. Reilly (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Alec Baldwin (The Departed), and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies). This one would earn a total of eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
John Logan’s script focuses on Howard Hughes’ life from the 1920s through the 1940s. The immediate challenge with this kind of focus was finding the right events to highlight. In his private life, as well as in his career, Hughes covered a lot of ground. The script for this movie does a nice job finding the right place to start. From the early days of production on Hell’s Angels this one begins to build a fascinating version of Hughes. The script jumps in and out of his life, finding really great moments to spend time on. The events give the actors a lot to work with, and include some intense moments that really pay off. The story also introduces a number of great characters along the way. Instead of just throwing out big names, the people introduced all factor into the bigger story. The dialogue throughout the movie is strong, and it gives the actors a lot to work with.
The film also features a number of great scenes that focus on the challenges Hughes faced with the decline of his mental health. The emotional content of the film is really what makes this one different. The story digs deep into the private struggles of the title character, giving him a level of humanity that could have easily been lost in the film. The movie does leave a lot of unanswered questions. Any time a film chooses to portray just a sliver of someone’s life, there are bound to be some unfinished aspects. The movie does struggle a bit at finding the right way to end some of the arcs. While this might be frustrating, it’s not a major flaw. Overall, this is a very nicely written movie that gives the audience a look into the life of one of the most fascinating characters of the 20th century. John Logan would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Playing an iconic character comes with an intense amount of risk. In this movie there are two performances that could’ve gone wrong quickly. The first is Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes. Hughes was a complicated person, but his reputation is larger than life. Throughout the movie, DiCaprio does a great job bringing out both sides of this incredible man. He brings out the passion of his character, as well as his intellect. His work also brings out the deep emotional turmoil of a man in decline. These two halves come together into a great performance. Much of the success of his work can be attributed to the hours of preparation he did for the role. Prior to filming, he spent time with a number of people suffering from OCD, as well as a doctor familiar with the affliction. His work would earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Cast as Katharine Hepburn, Cate Blanchett was given an equally difficult challenge. She does a wonderful job bringing the legendary actress to life. Her speech and physical performance are almost perfect reproductions of Hepburn. Like DiCaprio, Blanchett also does a great job bringing out the private and public personas of her character. The two of them have great chemistry throughout the movie that really brings the unique relationship of their characters to life. Blanchett would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this one.
Some of the other good work in the movie came from John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, and Alan Alda. Their performances all connect well with the material, and they all have good chemistry with DiCaprio. Alan Alda was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work on the movie. The rest of the cast all do good work, and it would be impossible to name all of the people who deserve recognition. The work of the cast is intuitive and seems to understand the emotional shifts in the story. With DiCaprio at the center, the rest of the actors all find the right connections with him, creating something authentic and impressive.
This movie was filmed with the era of the story in mind. The early aspects of the film were captured using only shades of red and blue. The intent was to recapture the look of the Multicolor process owned by Hughes himself. Later moments of the film are colored to resemble to three strip Technicolor process of the fifties. This stylized imagery helps to bring a unique kind of authenticity to the movie. The camera work also does a great job in capturing the sets and locations throughout the movie. Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight) won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work.
This one clocks in at almost three hours, but it doesn’t feel long. The pacing is nice, and there aren’t any moments of fluff. Her work earned Thelma Schoonmaker (The Age of Innocence) an Oscar for Best Film Editing. The sets themselves are wonderfully decorated to bring the eras of the story to life. The costuming also feels genuine to the era, and adds a nice look to the movie. Instead of CGI, the film relied on scale models to handle many of the flight scenes in the movie. This has allowed the movie to hold up better than other CGI-heavy films from the time. The movie also won Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.
In addition, the movie also earned a nomination for Best Sound Mixing. The sound work does a good job bringing the story a richness that it needs. The score also adds a good layer to the experience. Howard Shore did a nice job crafting music that feels right for the time.
This is an interesting movie that does a lot of things right. Since the film doesn’t tell the whole story of Hughes’ life, it does leave a lot of unanswered questions. If you’re a fan of the stars, this is a must-see movie. I would also suggest this one to anyone who wants to see unique visual styling done right. It’s a unique biopic, and a fascinating slice of the life of an iconic character. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.