The Aviator (12A)

Written by John Logan, Directed by Martin Scorcese
On general release from 6th January 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

I suppose you could say Howard Hughes had quite an interesting life. To the extent that anyone can be, he was a ‘self-made’ millionaire. He was also a film director, aviation pioneer, and had a string of legendary Hollywood actresses on his arm. Oh, and he had loads of interesting phobias. If Heat magazine had existed in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, he would have made David Beckham look distinctly c-list.

The difficult task of portraying such a complex character fell to Leonardo DiCaprio, and he shows a depth to his acting rarely seen in his usual pretty boy roles. His control over the slightest movement is exceptional, giving ever greater clues to the turmoil behind those eyes and wads of cash. Cate Blanchett lights up the screen with her well observed Katharine Hepburn impression, while Alan Alda and Ian Holm do some fine work in their comparatively minor parts.

As well acted and visually dazzling as the film is, relating to Hughes’ glamorous lifestyle and massive bank balance is not easy. This gives most of The Aviator a kind of documentary feel, because a certain distance is maintained between the action and the audience. The gap is only bridged when Hughes comes crashing down to earth with a bang, and by then it feels too late. Never mind though, just think of it as a documentary from the beginning.

By combining visual elegance with a damn good story, Martin Scorcese has succeeded in making 166 minutes seem like a reasonable length of time to sit quietly. While it’s not one of the all-time greats, The Aviator seems likely to win plenty of Oscars come late February. Like almost everything that Hughes achieved, it’s big budget, wildly ambitious, and just about comes good in the end.