5 out of 10
What do you give a man who's had everyone?
From a director known for epic Oscar award-winners such as "Raging Bull", "Age of Innocence" and "Last Temptation of Christ", one could imagine no one better to recreate the life story of one Americas most wealthy and mysterious citizens. With this lavish and lengthy production Martin Scorsese retells the early years of the life of eccentric film director and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. Based on an original script by Chicago playwright John Logan, it spans nearly 3 hours in length and, like Hughes own life, has a list of names attached that reads like whos who of Hollywood including Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckensale, Ian Holm, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law and of course Leonardo Di Caprio in the leading role.
Born into a wealthy Texas oil family, Hughes rose to infamy following his arrival in Los Angeles, where he became known for big budget flight pictures, such as Hells Angels and his many forays into the early world of aviation, including a transatlantic flight from New York to Paris that outdoing Charles Lindbergs record. Famous for his love of life in the fast lane, he was often seen with the most influential and glamorous of the jet set crowd including Ava Gartner (Kate Beckensale), Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), Jane Russell and Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani). His later years were marked by an increasing decent into illness and following his attempts to create an air bus for a war time military contract which resulted in the Spruce Goose, he retreated to Las Vegas. Including some of the most pivotal moments in Hughes life, Scorsese reconstructs an era that was all about flash and excitement, between two world wars, where life could be lost in a moment and where anyone could stake a claim. Before everything soured, the young and handsome Hughes seemed poised to have the world for the taking.
Filmed with an awe-inspiring attention to detail, Scorsese has assembled not only an all-star cast but also an impressive and experienced behind-the-scenes crew including set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo (Baron Munchausen, Gangs of New York), costume designer Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love) and production designer Dante Ferretti (Age of Innocence, Kundun). Recreating the time in which Hughes lived, the picture includes sumptuous costumes, historical props and elaborate sets and from its early scenes, one gets the sense that The Aviator is a picture that will be Oscar-bound, whether it deserves them or not.
Unfortunately at a time when life in the 1930s and all things Hughes would be popular and could be introduced to a new generation, even with a big budget and high hopes, like the Spruce Goose, The Aviator gets off the ground, but doesnt go far. Like many big budget Hollywood films of late, it is big on looks and low on substance. Outstanding and noteworthy, Cate Blanchett, who is hauntingly accurate in her accent and mannerisms as Katherine Hepburn and also Di Caprio is brilliant as the troubled and fascinating Hughes. Even with their performances, the length and scale of the production with a script which often substitutes quantity for quality makes the film feel overly polished, slow and empty. With floundering perfomances by a miscast Beckensale and an others who seem present only as decoration, Scorcese loses a chance to truly recreate the spirit of the early 1900s and The Aviator often seems directionless and superficial.
Most disappointing, especially for those who know little about Hughes life, Logans story recasts his experiences in a way that doesnt give the audience a good sense of his historical importance or of who he was. Often portrayed as an innocent observer became a victim to the Hollywood elite and the US Government, particularly Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) over his involvement in the development of the US airlines, Scorese never gives much information behind Hughes disappearance or his early years to expand on this development in his life, leaving many questions unanswered. Also his relationships with Gardner and Hepburn are equally devoid of emotion, and seem to be missing something in the dramatic and glamorous era of WWII Hollywood. As watchable as it is, the story and the picture would have been better if more focused or more open in its exploration of such a complex person.
While winning awards for art direction, cinematography, costume design, editing and best performance for Cate Blanchett which it did deserve, one hopes that the line so often repeated by Hughes in the film, the way of the future that Scoreses shallow Aviator will not always be the way of storytelling in Hollywood.
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies