The Aviator (2004)
October 6, 2014 7:34 PM - Subscribe

A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes' career, from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s.

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, his top rating, and wrote in his film review:
Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" wisely focuses on the glory years, although we can see the shadows falling, and so can Hughes. Some of the film's most harrowing moments show him fighting his demons; he knows what is normal and sometimes it seems almost within reach.


The movie achieves the difficult feat of following two intersecting story arcs, one in which everything goes right for Hughes and the other in which everything goes wrong. Scorsese chronicled similar life patterns in "GoodFellas," "Raging Bull," "The King of Comedy," "Casino," actually even "The Last Temptation of Christ." Leonardo DiCaprio is convincing in his transitions between these emotional weathers; playing madness is a notorious invitation to overact, but he shows Hughes contained, even trapped, within his secrets, able to put on a public act even when his private moments are desperate.
At The New York Times, Manohla Dargis viewed DiCaprio's depiction of Hughes' mental illness as less successful:
Sometime between the drift and the drama Hughes locks himself in a screening room, strips off his clothes and begins a babblogue that unfortunately for both the actor and his director initially echoes a similar meltdown in Mr. Scorsese's "Taxi Driver." Mr. DiCaprio tries hard to pull off a pantomime of madness, but neither he nor Mr. Scorsese taps into the pity and terror underlying the episode, even when the director throws a halo of light around the character's head. Hughes died a skeletal drug addict, broken-off hypodermic needles embedded in his arms. He was a freak and an outcast and eventually a figure of public fun, which perhaps explains why Mr. Scorsese tends to play the character's tics for light laughs, even when they don't seem very funny.

The director makes a halfhearted effort to pin Hughes's emerging obsessive-compulsive disorder on his mother, mostly by drawing attention to his breast fetish and milk consumption. Most of this comes across as crudely comic, a decision that speaks to the film's confusion of tone. Hughes built an entire movie around Jane Russell's full-figure bosom in the only other feature he directed, a 1943 western called "The Outlaw." In "The Aviator," Hughes's fixation on Russell's breasts, which coincides with his construction of a similarly monumental airplane nicknamed the Spruce Goose, signals a calamitous regression. Mr. Scorsese exploits the comedy in this mommy-mammary nexus, but either because he isn't interested in Hughes or doesn't want to go too dark he fails to mine its tragedy.
The special effects are noteworthy, especially the scene where Hughes crashes his plane.

The Aviator Visual Effects - Behind the Scenes

YouTube links
Film Trailer
Dinner with the Hepburns
"The way of the future" scene (ending)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This kicks off the "Fear, Paranoia, and Panic" series (tagged: FPP), taking place during the month of October 2014 (FanFare Talk announcement).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:51 PM on October 6, 2014

I liked this, by and large. Cate Blanchett's Hepburn was interesting. Although I kept expecting her to tell Hughes that she would beautiful and terrible as the dawn.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:08 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are not enough superlatives to accurately describe Cate Blanchett's performance.

"Well if you're deaf you must own up to it. [ ... ]There it is. Now we both know the sordid truth: you're deaf and I'm as beautiful and terrible as the dawn. Aren't we a fine pair of misfits?"
posted by wabbittwax at 9:37 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Cate Blanchett is pretty wonderful (no surprise there) - I had to cut this but Ebert addresses the casting of women in the film:
The women in the film are wonderfully well cast. Cate Blanchett has the task of playing Katharine Hepburn, who was herself so close to caricature that to play her accurately involves some risk. Blanchett succeeds in a performance that is delightful and yet touching; mannered and tomboyish, delighting in saying exactly what she means, she shrewdly sizes up Hughes and is quick to be concerned about his eccentricities. Kate Beckinsale is Ava Gardner, aware of her power and self-protective; Gwen Stefani is Jean Harlow, whose stardom overshadows the unknown Texas rich boy, and Kelli Garner is Faith Domergue, "the next Jane Russell" at a time when Hughes became obsessed with bosoms. Jane Russell doesn't appear in the movie as a character, but her cleavage does, in a hilarious scene before the Breen office, which ran the Hollywood censorship system. Hughes brings his tame meteorology professor (Ian Holm) to the censorship hearing, introduces him as a systems analyst, and has him prove with calipers and mathematics that Russell displays no more cleavage than a control group of five other actresses.
Spot-on: Blanchett avoids caricature, somehow, even with all the clipped speech and eccentricities of Hepburn. I thought Stefani was an inspired piece of casting, and Beckinsale holds her own.

I also hold a special fondness for Alan Alda who plays a scumbag politician surprisingly well in his scenes. He was nominated for an Oscar but didn't win (unfortunately - I thought he earned it).

Howard Hughes: "You want to go to war with me?"
Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster: "It's not me, Howard. It's the United States Government. We just beat Germany and Japan. Who the hell are you?"
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:45 PM on October 6, 2014

I have an outsized fondness for this movie that I can't quite explain, I think it's cause I had a Hughes obsession in High School - the man was almost a comic book character, richer than God and genuis AND supremely weird.

The You Must Remember This podcast has a series on the life and loves of Howard Hughes - the one about Hepburn is full of fascinatingly strange details ( ten pounds of sandwiches for a flight around the world!)

Notice the continuity errors on that milkshake tho.
posted by The Whelk at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, this was the start of Scorsese's decade long stint of casting DiCapro, right?

I also really love Wainright's rendition of Stairway To Paradise here. I have the soundtrack somewhere...

( Also, due to said Hughes obsession, I could make the case you'd need another three hour movie for his pre-Hollywood days which are BONKERS and full of RICH COLORFUL TEXANS.)
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, this was the start of Scorsese's decade long stint of casting DiCapro, right?

No, it started with Gangs of New York.

I had held off on watching this partly due to di Caprio overload and partly because I generally don't like biopics, but this of course is much more than that and I didn't really know that until recently.

There's a great little bit on Vimeo about recreating the XF-11 crash in 1/4 scale [part 1][part 2] When you look at what Hughes went through to stage the flying sequences in Hell's Angels (basically every airplane he could rent, up in the air for as long as it took to get the shots) and what Scorsese had access to in terms of special effects including CGI, it's really astonishing. By the way, Hell's Angels is really not a bad film, and includes a chilling sequence (which I had for many years attributed wrongly to Oscar-winner of 1929 Wings) where the crew of a German zeppelin attacking Britain sacrifices themselves that is as gripping as anything made today. It's also interesting to see where Hughes inserted the dialog sequences to make it a talkie.

Really, though, for anyone right around my age who grew up with this media image of him as a reclusive casino-living weirdo it was very illuminating. Back then nobody knew what to make of it. Today you can almost imagine ol' Howard having a Twitter presence and doing RTs for anyone with OCD.

I did wish the movie had touched on the Glomar Explorer incident, though. That's really one of the odder stories of the whole 20th century, even if his limited personal involvement would have been hard to shoehorn into the story they were telling.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh Man, Gangs Of New York, has ever a movie spent so much time and effort trying to convince you it needs to exist and utterly failing?

Folk singer/songwriter Dory Previn has a bit about meeting Hughes in her bio, when he was deep casino isolation mode. She said he cut himself off cause of his guilt in helping design the atomic bomb. Also shooting a movie downwind of a bunch of nuclear tests and giving everyone cancer.

I ran I get why they ended it where they did cause "Hughes is a weird recluse crackpot" is so well known already - but damn there just SO MUCH MATERIAL - his PR guy invented the term "platinum blonde", his extreme terror around children and the idea of having them!

This movie does have some astounding blink and you miss it cameos tho.

( (when I was writing my silly fanfic novella, I had The Aciator exist in the story, but about Howard Stark, not Hughes)
posted by The Whelk at 9:35 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is seriously one of, if not my absolute, favorite Scorsese film.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:46 AM on October 10, 2014

It's also like, all of Scorsese's hobbyhorses - an isolated but intense man tortured by mother issues and sexual dysfunction in a long, sprawling epic of his rise and fall.
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on October 10, 2014

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