Film review: The Aviator

The Aviator is a very good film. Not a great one, not one that I think deserves the accolade of ‘Best of the Year’, but this doesn’t stop good-but-not-great films being given that title (can anyone say, hand on heart, that Chicago, A Beautiful Mind or Gladiator, to name three recent films, were the best films in the years they won Best Picture? I thought not.) and I wouldn’t mind it happening if it meant that Marty got his overdue recognition.

The Aviator is basically ‘Howard Hughes: The Not-Quite-Mad-Yet Years’, as we see a period of his life from filming Hell’s Angels to when he gets the Hercules, the world’s biggest plane, to fly following his hearing in front of a senate committee. This, for me, are the more interesting years of his life, with the aviation and Hollywood aspects being intertwined as we get to see some of the events and people in his life. I don’t know enough about the man to question the truth of what we are shown, but I do know that it’s bloody interesting. A man very rich from drill parts, he makes films, he makes planes, he buys TWA, he shags around, he stands up to people, he goes a bit doolally – what’s not to find interesting?

Leonoardo DiCaprio is great as Hughes, both as the charmer/enthusiast and as the bonkers/twitchy/on-the-edge aspects of the man. Say what you will about him, but the boy can act, and this was a good role for him, and he steps up to the plate admirably. There are great turns from supporting actors (everyone else is supporting), from Cate Blanchett doing a great Katharine Hepburn, to Alan Alda as an oleaginous senator, Alec Baldwin (not quite the ‘Greatest Actor in the World’ that Team America would have you believe) as the head of Pan Am (who gets the only swear word in the film at a powerful moment, made more powerful by the lack of colourful language that other stories of the time I’ve read would suggest was more normal for the period), to John C. Reilly as Hughes’ business manager, to the (essentially) cameos from Kate Beckinsale, Jude Law and Ian Holm.

The story is laced with humour, the visuals are dazzling, with the camera moving gracefully around, and the period faithfully recreated. The Howard Shore score felt too intrusive sometimes, although the old songs used were great, something that felt more ‘Scorsese-ish’, if that doesn’t make me sound up my own derriere. I didn’t notice the three-hour-plus running time, which is always a good sign, so absorbed was I in the drama, and it made me want to know more about the man and the people who interacted with his life. The only thing lacking was that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a very good film into a great film. Je ne sais pas quite what that je ne sais quoi was, which could be why I’m reviewing the film in my blog and not making millions telling Hollywood how to make their films.

Rating: DAVE out of DAVID (or **** out of *****)

(I’ll explain my system shortly, promise.)

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