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"The Aviator" soars then crashlands - CinemaDave

Feb. 3rd, 2005 12:10 am "The Aviator" soars then crashlands

In biographical dramas, it is common practice to
incorporate the protagonist into the Aristotelian
tragic hero formula. The hero achieves great things
but is destroyed by a character tragic flaw. Leonardo
Di Caprio and Director Martin Scorcese have fashioned
a film about one of the towering figures of the 20th
Century, Howard Hughes. "The Aviator" follows textbook
drama of Shakespearian proportions; complete with
Hughes' aeronautical arrogance mixed with his
vulnerable underbelly of being a momma’s boy.

"The Aviator" focuses the most famous portion of
Howard Hughes public life, from 1927 thru the late
forties. Yet the first image is of a nude teenage boy
standing in the bathtub being taught by his mother the spelling
words for communicable diseases. The movie abruptly
shifts to an adult Howard Hughes (Di Caprio) in an
airfield as he prepares to produce the aviation epic
"Hell's Angels." Hardware Store Mogul Hughes has
decided to diversify his earnings into the fields of
aeroplane research and movie making.

While seeking to build a bigger, better and faster
airplane, Hughes romances the most glamorous stars of
Hollywood, Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani) Katherine
Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate
Beckinsale). As Hughes grows in public statue, he
makes enemies with his business competitors, most
notably the Head of Pan Am (Alec Baldwin).

"The Aviator" works as a movie for three reasons;
performance, action sequences and soundtrack. Leonardo
DiCaprio's performance strikes the correct balance
between iconic leading man with emotional empathy. He
is quite believable as the Smilin Jack aviator with
that of a tortured mind suffering from germ phobia.
Even with computer enhancement, the aviation sequences
are inspirational for their pioneering spirit. Cinematographer
Robert Richardson's vivid sequences allows the action to proceed
within the camera frame. The musical soundtrack from the Greatest
Generation is utilized to support the story in a sophisticated way.
One interesting tidbit - when Howard Hughes and Ava Gardner breaks up,
Martin Scorsese utilizes an Artie Shaw tune. Artie Shaw was one of
Ava Gardner's future husbands.

"The Aviator" falters due to the length of nearly three
hours and the choice of screenplay situations. The
film opens at a breakneck pace of aircraft flight
innovation mixed with art deco cool of Coconut Grove.
The film slows down with Hughes' mental breakdown and
the Senate investigation into his war profiteering.
Given how well the film was executed in the first
half, the drama becomes an overlong saga of a hero who
must overcome his made-for-television-disease-of-
-the-week. As Senator Brewster, Alan Alda adds a note
of humor to keep the dual of intellect interesting
during the Senate investigation.

During private scenes, one becomes conscious of the dramatic license
during the sequences involving Katherine Hepburn, Ava
Gardner and Errol Flynn. Academy Award winner, John
Logan, screenwriter for "The Last Samurai" "Star
Trek: Nemesis" and "RKO 251" and "Gladiator,"
should have known better. Forgetting Aristotelian Drama,
these sequences inspire neither pity not fear.

"The Aviator" will make a run for the Oscars. It has been well
received by the Golden Globes and this film might finally land
Martin Scorcese his best director statue. Despite some well directed
shots and steady performances, one walks away from "The Aviator"
feeling hollow.

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