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The Aviator Review

Released in 2004, The Aviator follows the life of Howard Hughes between the late 1920s and 1940s; a golden time where he was building great success with the TWA airline and his popular movie Hell’s Angels. However, in true Scorsese style, this movie is a tale of decline and casts dark shadows under Howard’s rise, carefully hinting at the troubled man’s inevitable fate. The director captures Hughes’ personal struggle perfectly in this movie, drawing a startling contrast between the highs and lows of a most unusual life.

Howard Hughes is played by Leonardo DiCaprio in this biopic, which follows his younger years. Despite his youth Hughes was already very successful as a director, playboy and entrepreneur thanks to his boundless energy, backed by his father’s great fortune. Leonardo is a perfect choice for this, alternating between a handsome, untouchable golden boy and a troubled sufferer of mental illness, without ever overacting. DiCaprio’s career set him up perfectly for this, as he moved from poster boy to serious actor. Two of Hughes’ famous paramours are played in the movie; Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner, played by Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale respectively. They frame DiCaprio’s performance neatly and help to draw those tormented contrasts out of his character.

The Aviator, like Casino long before it, demonstrates how Scorsese captures an era. Detail is abundant and the atmosphere is rich; you are never drawn out of the 30s and its surrounds. Much of this scene setting comes from costume and DiCaprio, the constant centrepiece who readily embodies that playboy image. Though he is not the facial double of Hughes, he captures his spirit and energy, an enthusiastic powder keg who probably should have failed much sooner. We follow his filming of Hell’s Angels, laughed at initially for its ostentatious expense and his lack of credentials, but turning out to be one of his many surprise successes. Hughes is bulletproof, outwardly, weathering any disaster (or stunning air crash) and winning over women who were his equal in character.

Scorsese chose well his leading ladies for this movie, as they serve to demonstrate key moments in Hughes life but also show that this playboy actually formed true bonds and was not satisfied with just any partner, itself a hint at his inner troubles. They also bring much needed humour to the tale. Kate Beckinsale excels as Ava Gardner, matching DiCaprio’s energy with stalwart confidence. Blanchett’s Hepburn is delightful and amusing, a portrayal of the iconic figure’s tougher side, self-assured, outgoing and insightful.

Scorsese and DiCaprio portray Hughes’ instability with impressive care, keeping the madness under a lid, understated, as indeed it was in his life as he fought to maintain his public veneer. The movie follows the arc of his rise and fall as these demons take hold, playing off our inside audience knowledge of how Hughes eventually comes to live in tragic seclusion. The crime and violence aspects of Scorsese’s earlier films are hardly present in The Aviator, yet Scorsese masterfully unmasks the mental equivalents of these aspects; within Hughes’ mind is a battle as brutal as any in Gangs of New York. The movie is a portrait, from dark moments to shining CGI adventures, which Scorsese paints with vivid colours.