Movie Review
The Aviator
2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale
B+


martin Scorsese has, at long last, made his Citizen Kane.



Now, this is not to say his Towering Masterwork, but rather a technically dazzling portrait of an enigmatic tycoon, whose inevitable fall from grace was (according to the movie, at least) a result not just of his financial overreach but, more importantly, of a crippling emotional attachment to some life-defining moment from his lost youth. Granted, The Aviator is far more linear in its structure than Kane, but, like Welles before him, Scorsese puts every cinematic trick available to him to clever use in the service of an elaborately constructed hall of mirrors that ultimately tells us less about the film’s subject than it does its creator.


"And that's the lead singer from that shitty band Bush. God, they suck..."


Even beyond the fact that matching up the two films side-by-side—expressive low-angle shot for expressive low-angle shot and faux newsreel for faux newsreel—would make for a hell of a cinephillic parlor game, Scorsese clearly identifies with Howard Hughes at least as much as Welles did with William Randolph Hearst. In fact, the sense of director-subject empathy in Scorsese’s film is actually more palpable; the Welles/Hearst theses are really only downright eerie with the advantage of hindsight as a point of comparison. I obviously have no idea whether or not Scorsese possesses some form of OCD, but the man’s mise-en-scene is as meticulous as anyone this side of Kubrick; it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it were revealed that he had just a touch of the condition himself.

The Aviator is most poignant as an ode to Hollywood and the craft of moviemaking—something Scorsese had never before addressed so directly in his fictional filmography. (Documentaries like his excellent My Voyage to Italy are another matter.) The casting alone for this film would be any old movie buff’s wet dream, and, generally, it’s fairly inspired. As Katharine Hepburn, Cate Blanchett steals every scene she appears in. I’ve never been a huge fan of Blanchett’s affectation-heavy, I-am-so-the-next-Streep brand of acting (though her scene in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes is my favorite in the film) and, admittedly, it took me a little while to warm up to her here, but once I gave in and bought Cate as Kate, she was a marvel to watch chew scenery. In other supporting roles, Kate Beckinsale (who, surprisingly, pulls off a pretty decent Ava Gardner), Alan Alda, and Alec Baldwin are also quite good.


The senator from Maine holds impassioned hearings on the cancellation of M*A*S*H...


Unlike in Scorsese’s previous feature, the supremely muddled Gangs of New York, however, Leonardo DiCaprio does not allow his central performance to be overshadowed by hammier costars. His Howard Hughes is easily the most completely realized turn that he’s given to date. Smartly, he never plays the eccentric (and eventually reclusive) billionaire for cheap disease-of-the-week sympathy, nor for easy laughs. He fully inhabits Hughes without ever quite allowing the audience to do the same.

Much of The Aviator’s pre-release buzz tended to focus on whether or not it would finally win America’s Greatest Living Director the Oscar that has eluded him for the past three decades (a question, it’s worth nothing, that’s altogether separate from whether or not it would actually turn out to be a great film). The verdict now that the movie is out is that it very likely will--give or take a certain late-breaking Clint Eastwood-helmed contender. While I’ll be genuinely happy for Scorsese if he does indeed finally receive the Academy’s overdue recognition, and personally glad that it was for a film that, if not one of his best (Raging Bull, New York, New York, Kundun), wasn’t one of his worst (Gangs of New York, Cape Fear, Casino) either, part of me can’t help but feel that he’s just too good for the Oscars. I mean, after all, Welles, Kubrick, Bresson, Hitchcock, and Godard never won competitive directing Oscars (I realize, of course, that the latter’s not only still alive but as vital a creative force as ever, but, come on, they’ve never even nominated him); Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Ron Howard, and James Cameron have. Need I say more?



By: Josh Timmermann
Published on: 2005-01-07
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