Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin
Success can only be defined by each individual because they create their own barometer, even when it may be inconceivable at times. The goals we set for ourselves may certainly differ than what our protagonist attempted to accomplish during the height of his powers, but they remain his own. A momentous challenge for a man willing to take on the insurmountable.
After great success as a Hollywood director in creating live-action plane battles with sounds, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) fixates on the creation of aircrafts. That leads him to purchase shares in Transcontinental & Western Air, which begins to ruffle feathers across the industry and specifically with Pan American World Airways.
There have been some incredible director/actor combinations in the history of cinema. From Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune, Ingmar Bergman/Harriet Andersson, Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart, and Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro among others. These directors have certainly worked with other actors but there always seems to be a few that allow both parties to reach the apex of their work. Along with Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese has built that type of working relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio. A collaboration that began with Gangs of New York was followed up by one of DiCaprio’s finest performances in The Aviator.
The story of Howard Hughes feels larger than life because of his aspirations and the resources as his disposal. At a very young age, he achieved high levels of success in multiple industries and was unaware of the political worlds he needed to navigate. He had an astute level of attention to detail, which made him a perfectionist, especially when he made planes and feature films. Some of that comes from his obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it also his desire to be the best in whatever industry he entered. That’s demonstrated through DiCaprio’s performance, who balances that playboy demeanor with the deep pain that lingers through the mind of Hughes. When others thought they would have reached success, Hughes kept pushing because it wasn’t enough.
The Aviator displays another excellent film from Martin Scorsese, who knows how to tell stories of complicated men to see what drives them and what leads to their downfall. He has famously accomplished this with his gangster films, but also did it with DiCaprio in other ways like The Wolf of Wall Street. It has certainly shown itself to be a major point of interest for the legendary director and he excels when he gets the opportunity to analyze someone with such a life story as Howard Hughes.
Supporting DiCaprio in this film are two tremendous actors in Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale. Blanchett won an Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn and deservedly so by channeling the quick wit of the legendary actor, but also by cutting through the showy side and showing the impact of Hughes’s relationship on her. Beckinsale shows the incredible promise that her career had before her agent seemingly developed a grudge for her and ensured that she would not land roles in stellar films such as this one. She portrays Ava Gardner, who shows the true side of Hughes. The tabloids may think they know the man but Garnder knew him more than anyone else. She had electric chemistry with DiCaprio in this film.
Through political intrigue, this film illustrates the dirty side of politics, which is well known. The Chairman of Pan Am, Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) used his political connections to ruin Hughes, as he saw the looming threat this young entrepreneur posed. It then became a battle between two very rich men in their efforts to influence a bill that would dictate the skies. That came from buying politicians and other dirty tactics. It became quite the battle all the way to the end. It caps off a story that can be divided into three parts with each of them slowly showing the deterioration of Hughes, but also the interests and battles he needed to take on.
The film has some incredible cinematography by Robert Richardson in the way he lights the germ-free zone room in Hughes’s home and the plane scenes in the air. It really bolsters the viewing experience as it captures the lavish and grandiose lifestyle and aspirations of this man. Add on the stellar directing and performances by the cast and you have a tremendous film that feels like an epic just to capture the life of this man.