The Aviator (2004)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

DVD In Association with
Rent DVDs online!
In the USA:
Try Netflix For Free.In the UK:

Synopsis & Analysis
Martin Scorsese's The Aviator chronicles the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), one of America's richest men, from the late Twenties, when he was directing Hell's Angels, a vast war movie, until shortly after his test flight of the "Spruce Goose," a gigantic cargo plane built by his aviation company. While the director generally avoids the tycoon's extremist politics, predatory sex life, and weird racism, he does reveal the man's burning drive, his affairs with various famous actresses, including Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), his conflicts with rival businessmen and politicians, and his battles with his own increasingly severe mental illness.


By taking this approach, the director has largely made his film into a celebration of Hughes' life. The man is not presented as perfect, but even his imperfections, such as his obsessive behaviors and delusional thoughts, contribute to his bravery and worth. There are, undoubtedly, many viewers who will be carried away by Scorsese's presentation of Hughes, who will be mesmerized by the character's vision, thrilled by his willingness to take terrible risks, and delighted by his defeat of all those who oppose him. There are others, however, who may not be able to accept the director's understanding of his protagonist and who will be troubled by many of those same actions. Additionally, Hughes' spying on one of his mistresses, his abuse of his employees, his war time profiteering, and the like make him a fundamentally reprehensible individual and will likely undercut many viewers' ability to engage with him as a hero.

Even the character's struggles are not always satisfying. Hughes so consistently defeats everyone who opposes him in such obviously emotionally rewarding ways that his battles with these persons are somewhat predictable and even a little tiresome. His bouts of mental illness are, nonetheless, well handled and make clear the effects such a condition has on the man's life. A scene in which Hughes is trapped in a lavatory when he discovers he cannot leave without touching the doorknob is simultaneously tragic and funny, as is the character's self imposed imprisonment in a private screening room, where he wanders about naked and filthy, drinking innumerable bottles of milk and saving his urine in those bottles after he has emptied them.


Visually, the movie is also inconsistent, as it mixes moments of captivating beauty and with others that are banal or worse. In his presentations of incidents set in a given year, Scorsese often mimics the look of a particular type of film stock that was being used in that year. There are, for example, scenes that appear to have been shot in Cinecolor, two-strip Technicolor, and three-strip Technicolor. Moreover, a number of the movie's luxurious and elaborate sets are just as delightful as are the means employed to film them. At different times, the director places his characters in wildly colorful offices, sumptuous theaters, and ornate restaurants, all of which are a joy simply to look at. Regrettably, a number of the movie's sequences are less than perfectly realized. Scorsese's use of computer generated images to bring his period aircraft to life, for instance, is awkward and unappealing.

Lastly, I should add that the performances of the cast members, although never inept, are never enthralling either. While Leonardo DiCaprio does not have tremendous range as an actor, he is entertaining to watch and is unlikely ever to distract the viewer. Unfortunately, Scorsese depicts Hughes as larger than life, and DiCaprio never really has enough of a presence to do the character justice as such. Cate Blanchett competently imitates the acerbic, pretentious, but appealingly self-confident Katherine Hepburn. Kate Beckinsale is largely forgettable, as is the usually reliable John C. Reilly, who plays Hughes' chief accountant, Noah Dietrich, and Alec Baldwin is a virtual nonentity as one of the millionaire's business rivals.


The Aviator may never rise to greatness, but it is a well made, interesting film that is, at the very least, likely to retain the viewer's interest throughout its duration.

Review by Keith Allen

Home Page / Alphabetical List of Films
List of Films by Star Ratings
Aesthetic Principles / Guide to Ratings
Criteria for Inclusion / DVD Stores / Blog

© 2006 Keith Allen. All rights reserved.

Click Here

banner 2