21 December 2004 | Rathko
Falling Short of Greatness...Again
Scorsese has such an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of cinema that every shot, however inventive and daring, is effortlessly composed. The direction, editing and cinematography are all the first-rate work by individuals who are clearly masters of their profession and the production design, costumes and makeup are the best you'll see all year. Their efforts combine to create a world of rich and lavish color, of excitement and glamour. Who wouldn't want to visit THIS Cotton Club in 1935? It's hard to imagine who could trump the technical team for Oscars this year.
With such a perfectly realized world in which to perform, the actors universally do an outstanding job. Despite the criticism of the hardcore DiCaprio-haters, the unprejudiced will observe an excellent performance that takes genuine risks and convincingly conveys the passing of more than twenty years. Importantly, DiCaprio more than holds his own when paired with Cate Blanchett and especially Alan Alda, who both give equally note worthy performances. Blanchett's interpretation of Katherine Hepburn seems spot on, and anyone familiar with the late actresses mannerisms will appreciate the hard work that clearly went into the recreation. Alda, one of the most consistently underrated actors around, delivers another masterclass in restrained character building as he oozes ambition and political dishonesty from every pore.
And yet, despite the obvious talent of all those involved and Scorsese's ability to effortlessly fill three hours, something about The Aviator fails to completely satisfy. Without wanting to sound like a film student, movies should, ultimately, be ABOUT something; love, honor, courage, redemption, the BIG ideas and themes that are the fuel of the plot. What was the drive of The Aviator? A rich guy recklessly spends lots of money to indulge his personal obsessions and gets away with it. We're never told how his experiences change him, and without change there's no journey. Considering the screenplay was written by John Logan, who usually displays a keen interest in showing the emotional evolution of his characters, the oversight is inexplicable. Ultimately then, much like Gangs of New York, The Aviator is simply the sum of it's parts, and however brilliantly those parts are realized, there doesn't seem to be a bigger theme to underpin and drive them.
The Aviator is a perfectly realized recreation of the era and one well worth experiencing. But the lack of a real emotional journey suggests 'all gloss and no substance', and ultimately prevents the movie from being truly great.