Review: The Aviator (2004)

The Aviator

The Aviator



Martin Scorsese


John Logan


169 min.


Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law, Frances Conroy, Brent Spiner, Edward Herrmann, Willem Dafoe, Kenneth Walsh

MPAA Rating

PG-13 (For thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence)

Buy/Rent Movie




The sky’s the limit. That’s the thinking that made Hollywood eccentric Howard Hughes a success when many were trying to bring him down. The Aviator tells the life story of one of those legendary filmmakers that everyone loved to hate.

Director Martin Scorsese creates a sumptuous view of Hollywood’s past as we watch Leonardo DiCaprio take on the movie industry and congress as the reclusive Hughes. Hughes was never well liked. He was a maverick who used his inheritance to soar as a film director.

We begin where most stories begin…in childhood. We watch as a neurotic mother carefully washes her son’s body, instilling in him the dangers of disease and uncleanliness. It’s a short scene but it establishes Hughes’ obsessive-compulsive tendencies. We fast forward to the set of Hell’s Angels , a film that was stuck in production hell as Hughes attempted to use his love of aviation to craft a realistic aerial combat scene. It takes him years and millions of dollars to find the right weather conditions but the film finally wraps and it’s a huge success.

The Aviator also gives us a look at Hughes’ relationships with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) as well as the meteoric rise to fame and his subsequent collapse. Fame is for those who don’t mind the attention. Hughes didn’t mind but his neuroses prohibited him from prolonged social interactions. One scene reminds us of this as he locks himself in his screening room while the government attempts to crucify him for his waste of appropriated funds for projects that never reached completion.

The film is epic in its storytelling but we never seen Hughes’ death, a misjudgment from screenwriter John Logan. Logan is responsible for the film’s only weak element. The story fails to tell certain aspects and grossly alters facts, including the real-life relationship between Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

The rest of the film is simply amazing. Scorsese knows how to frame a story and allow his actors to give amazing performances. DiCaprio is mesmerizing as the egomaniacal Hughes. He plays him with the right amount of sensitivity to give the audience a true understanding of the frailties of an afflicted man.

Blanchett, however, steals the show in every scene. Her interpretation of Hepburn is not only spot-on but it’s amazingly deep. It’s like Hepburn has come back to life and inhabited Blanchett’s body for a short time. Every other performance, from Alan Alda as the acerbic Senator Ralph Brewster to John C. Reilly as Hughes’ conscience Noah Dietrich are perfectly in tune.

The best part of the film for me as a film lover is the segment of the film that takes place during the advent of color in the 1930s. Cinematography Robert Richardson uses a technique that makes The Aviator feel as if it were shot during the time of two-strip Technicolor. It’s an amazing experience seeing the sole use of blues and reds to capture the scenes on the golf course and the turnip patch.

The Aviator is a triumph of filmmaking. It successfully blends technical artistry with A-class performances. There are times when a film will capture an audience’s imagination. This film should be the runway for plenty of avionic dreams.

Review Written

February 28, 2005

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