The Aviator is a rip-roaring character study, two things that don’t usually go hand-in-hand, which continues to show why Scorsese has been shamefully left out of the Oscar-winners circle.
The Scorsese-DiCaprio collaboration last brought Scorsese’s delayed dream project, Gangs of New York, to fruition and earned Scorsese his fourth Academy Award nomination for best director.
The Aviator is unlikely to break his empty-handed streak. Scorsese seems to be lagging behind in the race to Clint Eastwood’s directing-starring-producing-and-composing masterwork, Million Dollar Baby.
The movie, as usual for Scorsese, boasts the best work Leonardo DiCaprio has ever done. He sinks into the role of Hughes’ brazen ambition with the self-assured cockiness only a former teen idol has to possess.
Hughes’ story kicks off when he risks his fortune from an inherited drill bit company by committing it all to his blockbuster aviation picture Hell’s Angels. After years of postponement and a ballooning budget, Hughes wraps up the film, only for talkies (the first wave of films with live audio) to be invented. Hughes decides to start all over from scratch and re-shoot everything.
It’s Hell’s Angels that really launches Hughes’ obsession with planes and it’s his daring attitude that draws you into Hughes’ story. His perfectionist attitude leads Hughes to develop a plane of his own design and to set the airplane speed record. His dicey decision to test out his own planes also leads to a handful of spectacular crashes, once going right through a neighborhood and ripping the roof off of a building. Hughes’ carefree attitude ruffles enough feathers that he’s constantly under attack from rival airline owner Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) or Senator Owen Brewster.
As the ominous signs of Hughes’ obsessive tendencies and paranoia start to show through, Hughes finds himself unable to eat a meal ruffled at the hands of Errol Flynn (Jude Law), or trapped in the bathroom powerless to leave until someone opens the door and springs him from his germ-plagued prison. Even his usual smooth-talking manner betrays him, as he finds himself trapped in a continual loop having to repeat his words over and over again to placate himself.
DiCaprio meanwhile has to be one of the slyest actors working in Hollywood today. He has latched on to the two top-tiered directors working today, starring in Scorsese’s films and Steven Spielberg’s breezy, excellent Catch Me If You Can. He even has another Scorsese teaming coming in 2005 with Marty’s much-desired return to the mob world in The Departed.
With a stellar supporting cast including Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly and Alan Alda, Scorsese has loaded his picture with a talented supporting cast but Cate Blanchett shows up and trumps them all. Her fiery, red-haired performance as Katherine Hepburn is unforgettable. She’s so vividly flamboyant, with a mouth that won’t quit, and every scene with her seems very important. Her chatty, pulsating act should warrant Academy Award consideration.
But it’s Scorsese who needs the win. Winning the best picture and best actor in drama awards last weekend at the Golden Globes, The Aviator became a late-blooming success story. Having been almost entirely shut out at film critic awards ceremonies ranging from Boston to Los Angeles, The Aviator‘s surprising victory gives it wings heading into the Academy Awards, but is it enough for Marty to walk out with a statuette?
Brian Mulligan can be reached at email@example.com.