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The Aviator (2004)
Rated PG13

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Beckinsale

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

The last time Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese paired-up, it was for the disastrous Gangs of New York, a movie that had no clue as to what, exactly, it wanted to be. It tried to be everything and wound up a giant, bloated mess of a movie. The Aviator, while not as focused as it could be, is a much more cohesive project that had me captivated throughout its not quite three hour running time.

Beginning in Los Angeles in the late 1920s, we see the young Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) trying to complete his ambitious war film, "Hell's Angels." At the time, the movie was the most expensive film ever made and Hughes' reckless abandon to finish the movie typifies the way Hughes did everything: Get it done but don't worry about the cost. This attitude made him a lot of enemies in life and, if that wasn't enough, Hughes also had to worry about his ever-worsening obsessive-compulsive behavior and mysophobia (fear of germs).

The Aviator follows Hughes from his film days through his brief but notable achievements in aviation history. We see him break speed records, buy TWA Airlines, and envision The Hercules, the world's largest airplane. The latter brings on the scrutiny of Senator Owen Brewster (Alan Alda), who is in cahoots with Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin), who runs Hughes' main competitor, Pan American Airlines. Trying to force Hughes into supporting a bill that will give Pan Am the exclusive right to international flights, the FBI tries to dig up dirt on Hughes' eccentric behavior and business practices. Rather than submit, Hughes fights them head-on in a Senate hearing in one of the best scenes in the film.

At nearly three hours, The Aviator never seems too long or boring. Interesting and engaging from the first shot to the last, Scorsese presents the enigmatic Hughes as a simultaneously sympathetic and stubborn character. It's easy to feel sorry for him in the scenes where he knows his behavior isn't "normal" and tries to rein himself back in control of his faculties. Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is excellent and provides the majority of the film's power. His Oscar nomination was definitely justified.

Equally impressive, if not more so, are Alan Alda as Senator Brewster and Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn. Blanchett, in particular, chews up the scenery as the boisterous Hepburn, who proved to he Hughes' match romantically.

The Aviator ends, however, not so much with a climax as an abrupt finish. As much as I was enjoying the film, another hour would have been welcome. I suppose that Hughes' accomplishments following the timeline of the film wouldn't have made for much of a film experience, but I desperately wanted to know more about him after watching The Aviator. I suppose that means the film did its job quite well.

Trivia: Received the most Academy Award nominations for the year 2004, with 11 total. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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