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‘Aviator’ takes biopics to new heights

Howie Nave

A celebration of flying and a peek at one of America’s most unusual characters make seeing “The Aviator” an enjoyable experience. There has never been a motion picture that truly explored the genius and obsessive behavior of Howard Hughes.

Leonardo DiCaprio does a great job not just capturing the idiosyncrasies of the man, but the obstacles placed before him and how he circumvented those demons. Director Martin Scorsese has crafted a motion picture capturing faithfully the period from the late ’20s to the late ’40s. Hughes has never been an easy subject to tackle, as he was so secretive about his personal life, but Scorsese does an admirable job piecing the story together like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle, from Hughes’ close associates to historical accounts of the period.

The picture starts out slow, but gives us a glimpse of why Hughes may have developed his compulsive behavior so early when we see him as a child being bathed by his mother, explaining that the world is a dirty place.

Fast forward to Hughes the movie mogul-in-training, calling all his own shots and going over budget. The studios are always nervous when a filmmaker goes way over budget, but Hughes proved them all wrong with his “Hell’s Angels” epic motion picture about World War I from the vantage point of the pilots who fought it. That movie was amazing, even by today’s standards, and back then there were no CGI effects!

Howard Hughes was America’s first billionaire, and DiCaprio is able to convey the drive that Hughes had, with decisions made solely by him with no focus groups or committees. Red tape? Only the government would prove to be a big obstacle in his life, but even then he gets the final word. We are shown glimpses to the reclusive side of Hughes, but nothing like what his latter years would prove. Scorsese was smart to show the accomplishments of the individual without delving too much into the madness that would also consume him later in life.

There are several fine performances throughout – most notably John C. Reilly as Hughes’ personal advisor in all things financial … but what does that matter when your boss insists on spending until the shareholders back in Houston practically riot over his lavish expenses?

Another great performance is delivered by Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn. She nailed it perfectly. Hepburn, as shown in “The Aviator,” was Hughes’ true equal and soulmate. She would eventually wind up with Spencer Tracy, but you get the feeling that Hepburn would have married Hughes had it not been for her silver-spooned family with their snobbish ways.

In short, “The Aviator” offers up some stand-out performances from DiCaprio and Blanchett, with good acting from nemeses Alec Baldwin and Alan Alda.

Howie gives this film four out of five bagels.


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