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  • J.R. Zbornak

Fly Me To The Hughes: The High-Flying Excellence of 'The Aviator'


Martin Scorsese has had 50 years of great and memorable movies; From genre-defining pictures namely Goodfellas and The Departed to groundbreaking classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, to recent critically acclaimed features such as The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence. It's safe to say that Martin Scorsese has a lot of classics in his filmography. He's had success for many decades, including the 2000s.


The Aviator is a 2004 biopic directed by Scorsese; his second collaboration (of 5 so far) with Leonardo DiCaprio. At the time of its release, it received critical acclaim and was hailed as one of the best films of the year. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 5; including Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett. Despite the acclaim, it often gets left out of the conversation.



The picture tells the story of Howard Hughes, from his time working on his film Hell's Angels to his deteriorating mental health in the late 1940s. Luckily for the viewer, The Aviator is not your typical biopic. Instead of going through the motions and trying to show events that people may know, Martin Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan are more concerned about telling a very human story.


There are very few people like Howard Hughes. Few as revered, few as mythical despite him being a real person. His journey from a boy with a dream, to film producer, to ace pilot, to successful entrepreneur, to a shadowy recluse is a heartbreaking one. It's hard enough to read about it in books and articles, but seeing it portrayed on screen is something else entirely.




One of the film's biggest highlights is the acting. It's not a hot take to say Leonardo DiCaprio is one of (if not the) greatest actor of our time and his performance as Howard Hughes is a prime example of DiCaprio at his best. As opposed to just doing a glorified impression, DiCaprio creates a wonderful character. At the beginning of the film, DiCaprio plays a confident and charismatic Howard Hughes, to the point where it might as well have been the legend himself.


However, later on, when it's time to play Hughes at his absolute lowest, DiCaprio portrays him to perfection. Hughes' OCD is heartbreaking and terrifying to watch. For the whole picture, his mental disorder casts a larger shadow, slowly pushing Hughes to the brink of insanity. Only Martin Scorsese can make chocolate chip cookies and jars of urine the most frightening and depressing thing ever.


Aside from DiCaprio's larger than life performance, Cate Blanchett shines as Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn. I can go on and on about how Katharine Hepburn was a legend of her time, but I think that goes without saying. While on the topic of legendary actresses, Cate Blanchett is easily one of the best we have today. Known for her incredible range and dedication, Blanchett absolutely nails Hepburn. While she may not be a spitting image of her physically, she has her mannerisms and personality down pat. Her chemistry with DiCaprio is great and the raw emotion and intensity between the two of them is electrifying. From Queen Elizabeth to Rose Valland, to Bob Dylan, Blanchett truly knows how to embody the real-life figures she portrays on the big screen. But her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator is probably the greatest example of her talents.


There are so many great things about The Aviator; Scorsese's direction, Logan's great screenplay, the beautiful musical score by Howard Shore, its breathtaking cinematography, and its top-notch editing. While all of these aspects make for an amazing viewing experience, there's one performance in particular that makes me love the movie so much and that is Alan Alda's portrayal of Senator Owen Brewster.


Known primarily for his role as Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H, Alda is an icon in his own right. In The Aviator, Alda gets the golden opportunity to play a villainous role. Both in real life and the film, Senator Brewster tried to buy Howard Hughes' airline and give it to Pan Am. Their conflict expanded so much that it became known to the public eye. The back and forth between Alda and DiCaprio are some of the best dialogue exchanges I have ever seen in a movie. Seeing two acting titans go toe to toe in a battle of the minds rivals that of any large scale action scene you can dream of.


Senator Brewster at the start may seem like an understanding and nice guy (in tune to most characters Alda has played) but it's later revealed that he wants nothing more than to take Howard Hughes down. The real-life Senator Brewster was known for being a notorious racist and close ally of fellow infamous politician Joseph McCarthy. While the movie doesn't dive into those aspects of Brewster's life, the movie paints a perfect picture of Brewster's corruption. Despite not being in the movie all that much and taking awhile to show up, Alda leaves a lasting impression on the viewer and more than deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


It's a shame that this movie doesn't get as talked about as it should. Martin Scorsese's signature brand of drama helps create an ambitious biopic unlike any other. While Warren Beatty tried his hand at playing Howard Hughes and Christopher Nolan couldn't get his story off the ground, Martin Scorsese's picture flies above and beyond. It's a beautiful and heartbreaking portrait of how one man's dream became his biggest downfall. It's also a very timely story of how our failures don't have to represent us, but it's up to us and the people around us to define our legacies.


Howard Hughes was not perfect, but that's something that many people still refuse to believe. Sometimes, our ambitions and dreams can become too massive and could lead us to crash and burn. We're all flawed, we all have dreams, and we all have problems, and that's all ok, but sometimes it's better to take a look at the finer things in life and appreciate the little things.


Martin Scorsese deserves all the credit in the world for bringing such a great story to life. Whether it be through the lens of Howard Hughes or our own failings, it's never too late to figure out what we're meant to be. But it's also good to remember every once and awhile that we should be careful and not fly too close to the sun. None of us are Howard Hughes, but we could do great things if we try. One can only hope.

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