The Aviator (2004)
Reviewed on 2012 January 29
Biographical movies have their own special set of problems. I had a hard time envisioning Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, not because of his acting chops, but because of the tough job anyone has getting the viewer to believe they’re someone so iconic. You can’t exactly just have, say, Vinnie Jones screaming “I’m the Aviator, bitch!” though that would have had its own entertainment value. As the movie started I kept viewing him as Leonardo; soon into it I was just thinking of him as “Howard” and amazed at how unhinged the poor man really was.
Howard Hughes was destined for a different and hurdle-filled life from the start, from an overprotective mother to bankers who balked at loaning money to such a young businessman and film producer. His WWI epic Hell’s Angels already had a bloated budget, but that didn’t seem to phase Howard. He was more fixated on getting the perfect clouds to complete the movie than stressing over something pedestrian like the budget. As twitchy and ephemeral as he was brilliant, Howard was also fascinated with aviation.
Battling censors to create The Outlaw and brawling to forge and keep TWA only aggravated the millionaire’s neuroses. His enemies and rivals still made a fatal, repeated mistake: they underestimated him.
The film is a timeline from the Twenties to the post-war aviation and Blue Spruce part of Hughes’s life, and parts of it are a little slow but that’s a minor complaint for something this ambitious (and good). DiCaprio became more convincing as the Hughes character became more shackled by OCD. The scene where he meets Katharine Hepburn’s (Cate Blanchett) family is like watching him being fed to the wolves, and it doesn’t get any easier for him. DiCaprio does a good job conveying his pain, as well as keeping the audience sympathetic to an at-times very unlikable character.
Three chocolate morsels.