THE AVIATOR (2004) C widescreen 170m dir: Martin Scorsese

w/Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm Danny Huston, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law, Adam Scott, Matt Ross

From the Turner Classic Movies website,, this article about the film by Greg Ferrara: "Prior to 2004, the most widely known portrayal of Howard Hughes was probably that of Tommy Lee Jones in the made for television movie, The Amazing Howard Hughes, starring the always excellent Tommy Lee Jones in the title role. Another famous portrayal, and an Oscar nominated one, was that of Jason Robards, briefly appearing at the start of the 1980 movie, Melvin and Howard, which sets the story in motion. But it was Martin Scorsese, with The Aviator, who took the story of Howard Hughes, Hollywood mogul and aviation legend, and made it into a box office hit (bringing in over 200 million worldwide) and an Oscar darling, earning 11 Academy Award nominations and winning five, including Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett, the first and, as of this writing, still only time anyone has ever won an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner, in this case, Katharine Hepburn. The reason for the movie's success may have more to do with the liberties taken than anything about the real Howard Hughes.

"The biggest technological difference between this telling of the story of Hughes and all the others comes with big budget special effects that Scorsese used to film the aerial scenes, including one of the great moments of spectacle in the cinema, the scene depicting Howard Hughes' infamous test flight crash on July 7, 1946. In that scene, as in real life, Hughes takes a failing plane down in Beverly Hills, California, colliding with three homes along the way and nearly losing his life.

"The biggest difference in character between this telling of Hughes and all the others is the noticeable speech repetitions that Hughes suffers where he finds himself repeating a simple word or phrase over and over. It's not something other biographies have ever delved into and though it is a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, it is not known for sure if Hughes ever suffered from it. Nor does it matter. It's a way that director Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio have of externalizing the manifestations of Hughes' mind and the constant battle Hughes wages to control it.

"More than once in the movie, Hughes is seen holding his hand over his mouth, trying to physically repress what his brain is trying to get out. Hughes had a singular focus when he went to work on something, whether it be a movie or a brand new, experimental plane, and that verbal tic, that repetition, is his brain driving home a singular issue for his mind to grab hold of but it's supposed to stay inside where no one can hear or see it. When it gets out, his hand clenching his mouth is the only defense he has. In many ways, it's the most heartbreaking aspect of the movie: Hughes is fully aware of how this tic makes him appear and he struggles to control it.

"But the movie isn't just about Howard Hughes' obsessive compulsive disorder and that, too, is what makes this particular biopic a success. Hughes was a man of such achievement that a biopic of him simply working in film and aviation would have been enough to make a fascinating movie and, indeed, most of the film is concerned with Howard Hughes taking on the film world and, much to the chagrin of many people in the industry at the time, not failing. His early work as a director and producer with Hell's Angels is still pretty amazing, without even considering that he was only 25 when he made it. And the scene of Hughes, during production of The Outlaw, using all his guile to convince Hollywood censors that Jane Russell's cleavage was well within the allowable range set by them is one of the most entertaining scenes in the movie.

"Playing Howard Hughes is Martin Scorsese's second most prolific acting partner, Leonardo DiCaprio. Having worked with Robert De Niro eight times, Scorsese began working with DiCaprio in 2000 with his much delayed Gangs of New York and since has used him as his go-to actor more than anyone else, five times to date. DiCaprio does a fine job as Hughes, portraying his OCD in a way that relays to the audience that he is not only aware of his psychological challenges but trapped by them. He doesn't just show Howard scrubbing his hands endlessly in an effort to get all the germs off, or repeating a key phrase again and again, he shows a man terrified of his own inner-workings, fully aware of what's going on and unable to stop it.

"The Aviator has some fine supporting performances as well. Despite the uphill battle of portraying an actress whose every mannerism and vocal inflection is known to the classic film loving community, Cate Blanchett succeeds in producing a unique version of Katharine Hepburn for the film. It's not meant to be an impersonation, and thank goodness for that, it's meant to be a character from real life that has a long relationship with Hughes and happens to be a famous actress. If Blanchett didn't spend one minute studying the mannerisms of Hepburn, no one could blame her. Better to play the character before you than one you've learned to imitate from watching old movies.

"Another excellent supporting performance comes from Alan Alda, as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, the Senator investigating Hughes' wartime aviation contracts with the government. Alda, an Emmy winner many times over, received a long overdue Oscar nomination, playing the Senator with such a smug, self-satisfaction, he quickly becomes the closest thing to an antagonist that the movie has and it's a role Alda relishes.

"Martin Scorsese would finally win an Oscar for Best Direction a couple of years later for The Departed but he could have won it for this just as well. In fact, it may be more difficult telling a story that most people going to see it already have an idea about in their head. Certainly, most audiences had an idea about how Hughes and Hepburn should look and sound and to Scorsese's credit, he allowed his actors to create roles that worked as three dimensional portraits, not one dimensional impersonations, and the movie's all the better for it."

THE AVIATOR won five Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Blanchett), Film Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), Cinematography (Robert Richardson), Art Direction (Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo), and Costume Design (Sandy Powell). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (diCaprio), Supporting Actor (Alda), Original Screenplay (John Logan), and Sound Mixing (Tom Fleischman, Petur Hiddal).