Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: Scorsese, DiCaprio Revived Old Hollywood Style with "The Aviator"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 12 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Aviator (2004)
Running time: 170 minutes (2 hours, 50 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language, and a crash sequence
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
WRITER: John Logan
PRODUCERS: Sandy Climan, Charles Evans, Jr., Graham King, and Michael Mann
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson
EDITOR: Thelma Schoonmaker
Academy Award winner


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Adam Scott, Matt Ross, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law, Brent Spiner, Willem Dafoe, Kelli Garner, and Frances Conroy

Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator recounts the years of Howard Hughes’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) life from the late 1920’s to the late 1940’s. In that epoch, the eccentric billionaire industrialist was a Hollywood film mogul producing scandalous and infamous films. However, he was best known even in Hollywood as the daring pilot who was test flying innovative aircraft he built and designed. The film begins with Hughes’ four-year odyssey making his war epic film, Hell’s Angels, and ends with him preparing to take the next big steps in aeronautics after the successful flight of his giant wooden plane he called The Hercules, but others derogatorily called the Spruce Goose. In between, the wealthy playboy has passionate but doomed affairs with legendary actress Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and the no-nonsense, independent starlet, Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). Hughes, owner of TWA (Trans World Airlines), also has a feud with Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin), owner of Pan Am Airlines, and Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda), a Maine senator in Trippe’s pocket.

The Aviator has three things going for it. First, it’s a brilliant technical achievement in terms of its special effects and photography (easily the year’s best). Secondly, Martin Scorsese’s directorial effort is spectacular, not in terms of being showy, but because of his choices. For instance, he designed each year in the film to look just like color film from that time period would have looked. The photographic color technique actually drives the film narrative forward. Whereas, his 2002 film Gangs of New York, fell apart by basically tacking on a fourth act, The Aviator almost, but doesn’t fall apart by the end of it’s nearly three-hour running time. The Aviator is lively and energetic, and, at times, seems as if it is actually a film made in the golden age of Hollywood. Only a few moments of weirdness (especially an ending that hints at or suggests Hughes ultimately disintegration) hamper (barely) the film. Still, the good moments, such as the aerial scenes, both flights and crashes, may finally earn Scorsese an Oscar. [It didn't; Clint Eastwood won for Million Dollar Baby.]

The acting more than anything else makes this a special film. It goes without saying that Leonardo DiCaprio gives a great performance. He makes Howard Hughes his own, and turns him into a magnetic presence that stalks the film stage as if he were the king of the world. However, it is Hughes’ mentally unstable side that hamstrings DiCaprio’s performance. That part of the act is more odd and embarrassing than skillful. Although I personally don’t like people imitating Katherine Hepburn, Cate Blanchett does a fine job turning a caricature into an engaging, three-dimensional character. However, Kate Beckinsale’s turn as Ava Gardner is a scene-stealer, and Ms. Beckinsale makes Ms. Gardner an intriguing and appealing figure. Suffice to say, the rest of the supporting cast also go a long way to making this a cinema must-see.

9 of 10

2005 Academy Awards: 5 wins: “Best Achievement in Art Direction” (Dante Ferretti-art director and Francesca Lo Schiavo-set decorator), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Robert Richardson), “Best Achievement in Costume Design” (Sandy Powell), “Best Achievement in Editing” (Thelma Schoonmaker), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Cate Blanchett); 6 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Michael Mann and Graham King), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Martin Scorsese), “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (Tom Fleischman and Petur Hliddal), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Leonardo DiCaprio), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Alan Alda), and “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (John Logan)

2005 BAFTA Awards: 4 wins: “Best Film” (Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King, and Charles Evans Jr.), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Morag Ross, Kathryn Blondell, and Sian Grigg), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Cate Blanchett), “Best Production Design” (Dante Ferretti); 10 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Howard Shore), “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Robert Legato, Peter G. Travers, Matthew Gratzner, and R. Bruce Steinheimer), “Best Cinematography” (Robert Richardson), “Best Costume Design” (Sandy Powell), “Best Editing” (Thelma Schoonmaker), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Leonardo DiCaprio), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Alan Alda), “Best Screenplay – Original” (John Logan), “Best Sound” (Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, Petur Hliddal, and Tom Fleischman), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Martin Scorsese)

2005 Golden Globes: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture – Drama” “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Howard Shore), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Leonardo DiCaprio); 3 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Martin Scorsese), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Cate Blanchett), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (John Logan)


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