22 January 2005 | WriterDave
An Interesting Muddle
"The Aviator"--a biopic of Howard Hughes-- is clearly one of Scorsese's lesser works. Still, a lesser work from Scorsese is far superior to the greatest work of your average director. Here's the rundown:
The first quarter of the film is a total triumph, showing the young Hughes' bold endeavors in film when he produced what was at the time the most expensive and lavish film ever made. Scorsese tipping his hat to old Hollywood is the most fun he has had since "Goodfellas." The costumes, set designs, and pacing of this portion of the film are stunning and suck the viewer in.
The rest of the film, despite Scorsese's amazing and vivid attention to detail, is a muddled mess, giving us glimpses into Hughes' obsessive (and compulsive) ways, his womanizing, his ambitious foray into aviation and the early days of commercial flight, his fight against Congress at the end of WWII, and the notorious plight and ultimately single flight of his infamous "Spruce Goose." It's all semi-educational and semi-entertaining, but in the end I think the complicated life of Hughes remains a mystery.
As for the performances, they are amazing (thanks in most part to Scorsese, the ultimate actor's director). Leonardo Dicaprio in the title role gives yet another performance that goes against my natural loathing of him, and although he seems a bit too boyish playing Hughes in the latter years (and the film really suffers for it), he's impeccable for the better part of the film. Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn is simply stunning and steals every moment she is on screen. Her look, her mannerisms, and her speech perfectly match the screen legend to a haunting degree. Alan Alda and Alec Baldwin in supporting quasi-villain roles are methodically perfect. And the nicest surprise was Kate Beckinsale, a normally flaccid actress, playing Ava Gardner. She came across as gorgeous, intelligent, and maximized her minimal screen time without ever overtly stealing her scenes. Like Sharon Stone in "Casino" and Cameron Diaz in "Gangs of New York" Scorsese once again coaxes a great performance out of an otherwise unremarkable pretty face.
In the end, "The Aviator" flies high thanks to Scorsese and the acting, even if the real person it depicts remains lost in a muddle of half truths and speculation.