The Aviator: Another Martin Scorsese Epic

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Martin Scorsese successfully gives the biopic treatment to Howard Hughes with a superb performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator.

This is the second annual year in which I watch a film that Thelma Schoonmaker worked on for her January 3rd birthday. Last year, I decided on Gangs of New York, a film which is celebrating the 20th anniversary this year. Schoonmaker’s work in this film is what earns her a second Oscar. The other wins are for Raging Bull and The Departed. With editing every Martin Scorsese film since Raging Bull, there’s no shortage of films that I can watch next year on her birthday. Perhaps it will be Goodfellas? Time will certainly tell.

Scorsese is no stranger to making epics. This film, which focuses on Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is no exception. There’s certainly a lot of working going into the film especially with John Logan’s screenplay stretching 20 years. Listen, packing too much into a film is a big problem with biopics. It’s easier packing 20 years into three hours than two hours. At the end of the day, it’s better to focus on a narrower period of time than so many years. DiCaprio does a fine job as the film producer/aviation magnate. Hughes isn’t the easiest man to work with and lost stability in later years due to his severe OCD.

When you watch so many classic films starring Katharine Hepburn, it becomes fascinating to watch Cate Blanchett portray her. There’s obviously nothing better than watching the real Hepburn. However, Blanchett is superb in portraying the Oscar winner. It’s also interesting to watch other Classic Hollywood folks come to life, too. You have the moguls like Louis B. Mayer and actresses such as Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), and Faith Domergue (Kelli Garner). When antisemite Joseph Breen comes on the screen, all you want to do is give him major side-eye. Breen basically remade Hollywood in his image with his strict enforcement of the Production Code.

Hughes being a womanizer is no secret. Hepburn leaves him for Spencer Tracy because of his eccentricity and being a workaholic. Hughes moves onto 15-year-old Faith Domergue. Fifteen-years-old, really?!? Following her, he moves onto Ava Gardner. All the while, Hughes sees to it that there are no press reports about Hepburn and Tracy’s relationship. It’s good to see that Hughes still cares about Hepburn after she moves on from him!

One decision that I like is how Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson pay homage to the early Technicolor palette. In this case, it’s the two-color and three-strip Technicolor. You can especially notice two-color during the film’s first hour. Everything changes after Hughes crashes the XF-11 but the film keeps the 1940s look.

From Hollywood, the film turns its focus over to aviation. Do not expect this part of the film to get pretty. Hughes starts to see things do downhill during this portion of the film. A plane crash leads to a cancelled contract. Accusations of war profiteering. A senate investigation. Basically, his life starts falling into shambles because of the worsening OCD. You get the idea.

Warren Beatty’s long-delayed Rules Don’t Apply didn’t hit theaters until 2016. Of course, it was a box office bomb. However, it’s a good look at his later years in life. Beatty had been wanting to do a Hughes biopic since the early 1970s. One idea would be to watch both films back to back. Not necessarily to compare the work of DiCaprio and Beatty. It would be more so to get a whole portrait of Hughes’s life. For me, that day will not be today.

The Aviator has been on my list of films to watch for many years. Somehow, I just never got around to doing so. I blame being in college and not having enough time to see everything during winter break! Too many films are released in late December and it’s impossible to see everything. My initial thought upon viewing the film was why did Leonardo DiCaprio not win an Oscar for his performance. And then upon looking at the nominees, Oh. The film did go onto win five Academy Awards out of eleven nominations. Among them are: Best Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), Art Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Editing. Unfortunately for Martin Scorsese, he would have to wait until The Departed to finally bring home an Oscar for Best Director.

The Aviator soars high because of both Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Danny Huston, with Gwen Stefani and Jude Law

Warner Bros. released The Aviator in theaters on December 25, 2004.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.