THE AVIATOR

(2004)
With Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Reviewed by JB

Show me the blueprints... show me the blueprints...     The second of two back to back epics by Martin Scorsese, THE AVIATOR is by far a better movie than his previous GANGS OF NEW YORK and is his best overall film since GOODFELLAS.

     I don't know why I am constantly surprised by Leonardo DiCaprio - by this time, I should realize that despite his "pretty kid" looks, he is a marvelous actor, and is dynamite as Howard Hughes, multimillionaire film and aviation pioneer.  DiCaprio looks a little too young to play Hughes, even a young Hughes.  But I often found that with DiCaprio, if I just sit back and forget my reservations, I discover him giving yet another outstanding performance.  In THE AVIATOR, he gets better as the film progresses and the extent of Howard Hughes's obsessive compulsive disorder is revealed.  Unlike GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE AVIATOR gives DiCaprio a captivating three-dimensional character to play, and the actor commands our attention from the first scenes of Hughes filming HELL'S ANGELS to the final moments, three hours later, when he is obsessively repeating the phrase "way of the future... way of the future...".

    There are several other standout performances among the supporting cast, especially Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn.  Without resorting to slavish imitation, which would have been disastrous, Blanchett manages to capture the late actress's spirit and almost walks away with the picture.  As it is, she walked away with the award for supporting actress.  As a corrupt senator out to ruin Hughes, Alan Alda proves once again that he gets better as he gets older.  And although Alec Baldwin may play yet another in a long line of one-dimensional villains, it is the type of role he has refined down to a science.  Only Kate Beckinsdale disappoints as bombshell actress Ava Gardner.  Perhaps it is her lack of screentime or the impossibility of following Cate Blanchett's turn as Katherine Hepburn, but Beckinsdale is never convincing.

     One major criticism that can be leveled at THE AVIATOR is the one word question "why?".  The project was brought to Scorsese by DiCaprio himself, the screenplay was written by John Logan, yet THE AVIATOR, despite its grandiose scale, still comes off as a high-tech version of Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER or THE KING OF COMEDY.  Once again in a Scorsese film, we watch a half-mad man go full scale bonkers, this time over the course of three hours.  The film just ends at a random point in Hughes's life, as he babbles helplessly in a storage room.  Thankfully, there are so many good performances and sequences, THE AVIATOR is fascinating anyway. 4 - JB

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