Well we’re off with the February Alphabet Challenge (Feb Alphabet Film Challenge), and we start with ‘The Aviator’.
This phenomenal 2004 movie by Martin Scorcese is a biographical dramatisation about Howard Hughes. A man who was a multi millionaire movie director, oil drill bit marker, plane designer, and airline owner who is most famous for his descent into mental illness and reclusiveness for fear of germs and dirt.
The opening parts of the film recount Hughes’ goliath undertaking in his direction of the film ‘Hells Angels’. The film would ultimately cost near $4M making it the most expensive film on record at the time. But, beyond the film itself, it begins to layout the character of Hughes. A man that was obsessed with the details, and would not settle for anything less than he considered perfect.
As the film progresses, Hughes moves away from the work of cinema, and further into aeronautic engineering. Speed records, to spy planes, to mammoth ‘boats with wings’ take up more and more of his life and come with not only a huge financial cost, but also emotional and physical.
The Aviator is the product of a different master of his field. In ‘The Aviator’ Scorcese is in full force and delivers a film appropriate in scale for the man whose life it was based on. The director moves through a large part of Hughes’ adult life, capturing the key events, and relationships with exciting cinematography, and dramatic scale and editing. Even the colouring of the film evolves over time in line with the era of cinema that the part of the story is in.
It captures the drama and excitement of Hughes as he continues to evolve design of aeroplanes both in scale, and in speed.
The film features a number of supporting character roles that stand out. Cate Blanchett would go on to win Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Katherine Hepburn, one of Hughes’ hollywood love interests, although more than one of many ‘starlet’ relationships, Hepburn was in a long term relationship with Hughes. Blanchett is remarkable in the film playing the famous actress but a performance that is a masterclass in reacting as much as acting.
Notable performances also include Alan Alda (playing Senator Owen Brewster), John C Reilly (as Noah Dietrich, a long term colleague) and Kate Beckinsale (as Ava Gardner).
Ultimately though, this film would not be anything with the incredible performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. Beyond his first Scorcese collaboration (Gangs of New York in 2002, where he was somewhat overshadowed by Daniel Day Lewis’ Bill the Butcher), this was the role that really allowed him to stand alone as the actor that he is capable of being. For me, this is the role that put DiCaprio in a new orbit of acting and set out his stall for everything that has come since then.
This film asks everything of DiCaprio. He ranges from young confident film maker to scarred and mentally broken man sat naked in a hotel room. He captures that tragedy of the character as he descends into a breakdown, and the joy of watching he emerge from it. I think its the best performance from all of his work with Scorcese.
The film would go on to win 5 academy awards. Beyond Blanchett’s award, for Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design and Art direction.
Its an epic, ambitious, grand film that manages to deliver. Scorsese manages to make his Hercules fly.