The Aviator

on December 17, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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Among the capstones of Martin Scorsese's oeuvre are cinematic biographies of extraordinary yet deeply tormented real men, from pugilist Jake La Motta and gangster Henry Hill to the Dalai Lama and Jesus Christ, and recently he's explored his passion for film in documentary surveys on American and Italian film. "The Aviator" is a melding of these twin fascinations: a biopic about Howard Hughes--an eccentric drill-bit billionaire who revolutionized aviation while living it up as a movie mogul--that culls archival footage not only from Hughes' Hollywood films but from newsreels of the period.

Focusing on his stunning success in the '20s, '30s and '40s as a designer of aircraft, producer of films and romancer of women, "The Aviator"--reflecting Hughes' fantastic vision of the world with a theatrical lighting design and a sepia color palette accented by pinks and blues--portrays a man who struggles his whole life with the neuroses that eventually overwhelm him. As Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio possesses the boyish enthusiasm of a teenager, the poise of a successful entrepreneur and the edge of a man ravaged by interminable hours and anxiety. What begins as a nervous tic evolves into twitches and convulsions and the pathological repetition of certain phrases. DiCaprio inhabits a man who battles madness with every cell of his being.

A surfeit of stellar performances are often uproariously funny, from Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, Jude Law, John C. Reilly--one can't even name them all. But Cate Blanchett very nearly takes over the film as Katharine Hepburn, perfectly capturing the first lady of cinema's breezy demeanor and signature growl in addition to bearing a striking resemblance. It's a caricature whose familiarity initially sparks titters but gradually evolves into a nuanced inhabitation of a regal woman who feigns apathy at her fading fame and evades vulnerability by always being on. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Gwen Stafani and Jude Law. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by John Logan. Produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence. Running time: 170 min

Tags: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Gwen Stafani and Jude Law, Directed by Martin Scorsese, Written by John Logan, Produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr, Miramax, Drama
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