Saturday, February 12, 2005

FILM: The Aviator

Mostly what I knew about Howard Hughes was the impression planted in my 14-year-old mind when he died: that he was an incredibly wealthy old man, and a highly eccentric recluse who hadn't trimmed his beard or fingernails in years. The Scorsese film The Aviator does a great job of bringing this remarkable character to vivid life, in all his brilliance and all his eccentricity. DiCaprio's portrayal is outstanding, and Cate Blanchett as Kathryn Hepburn is all that. Scorsese does a good job of putting you inside Hughes' head in moments of paranoia, allowing the audience to see a "menacing" employee or a "threatening" piece of food as Hughes does. And overall, I think the film avoids the temptation to dwell on the eccentricities, instead striking a good balance between showing his moments of greatness and moments of deterioration, and presenting a complex character in all his complexity. My only initial complaint was that the movie just stopped rather than ended, although in thinking about it, it probably could not have carried the story any further while maintaining the balance. We get to see the trajectory of Hughes' life take flight and exceed expectations, and we get to see the engine start to fail. We already knew the ultimate trajectory ends in a crash, and we didn't really need to see the wreckage. So the film stops in just the right place after all.

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