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Aviator - Movie Review

The movie is a partial bio-film (1927 -1947) of the insanely rich and the insanely talented Howard Hughes who created splashes in Hollywood through his movies and experiments in the aviation sector. It was an era when the major Hollywood players made movies inside their studios and talked about big budget. Hughes was in a different league. He gathered the largest private airforce to make 'breathtaking' war scenes for his movie 'Hell's Angels', which was the most expensive production of his time. The movie suffered from his eccentricity, when he repeatedly changed his ideas on presentation and kept the budget bulging all the time. Finally when the movie was released after 2.5 years of pregnancy period, it was received with a grand welcome, but didn't make enough to break even ($3.8 millions in the late 20's).

Although Hughes continued to make movies after 'Hell's Angels', the screenplay focusses on his love with aviation from then on, which justifies the title. Hughes treats his private airplane like we treat our bikes. A good deal of the first third of the movie is spent in developing the relationship between Hughes and Hepburn. In a party, when he's bored by the chit-chat of Hollywood stars, he picks up Katherine Hepburn and goes for an air-ride over Beverly Hills. Hughes understands that Hepburn is equally bored at the mundane proceedings of an ordinary life and enjoys adventure with the same passion he has. She later moves into his home and then they attend parties of glitz and glamour. While she seems to enjoy all the public attention, Hughes hates it. By this time, we see that they don't enjoy a great chemistry and know where it is going. Before Hughes breaks up with Hepburn, he already has the reputation of a playboy. After she leaves him, he revels in the company of Faith Domergue and Ava Gardner for a while before he becomes a recluse. The movie hints at his obsession with cleanliness.

The second third consolidates Hughes dreams of building aircrafts with superior engineering. He avoids conventional design and engineering as if it were a plague. He dreams of powerful propellers, large wing spans, efficient engines, flying across the Atlantic non-stop, an aircraft that will carry more than 30 passengers, a reconnaissance flight and much more. He not only builds them, but he test flies everything. There is a scene where he test flies an aircraft and he enjoys his flight so much that he ignores the ground control. It's too late when he realizes that he has run out of fuel and crashlands into a beet field splashing beet juice all over himself and the bird. All the while, an unquenched passion for aviation in present in his eyes. Whenever he sees a flight, his eyes light up. By this time, he is a germ-free freak.

The last segment has a lot of drama in it. Hughes becomes the major share holder of TWA (Trans World Airlines). The also receives orders from the U.S military (II World War). Hughes test flies an XF-11 reconnoitter and crashes into heart of Beverly Hills. He is very badly hit and his competitor Pan-Am, tries to negotiate a raw deal with him. When he refuses to budge, Pan-Am bribes Senator Brewster to press charges against him for defrauding the tax-payers money. He has now become a complete psychotic. He suffers from a bad case of OCD. He creates a germ free zone in his house and lives there for weeks drinking only milk in nudity (fearing his dresses may carry germs). His conversations with Brewster at the hearing sessions are examples of his skewed business acumen mixed with a childish frankness. The movie ends with his dream project of a ship-cum-flight taking off the sea.

Scorsese is good at handling emotionally troubled characters. He has done that with DeNiro in 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull'. 'The Aviator' does not come close to those masterpieces, but it's good and stands well on what it tries to do. He carefully adds depth to the characters from various dimensions with scenes that doesn't have words, but only gestures. DiCaprio as Hughes is usually solid and the screenplay by John Logan feeds him with enough challenging moments. Alec Baldwin (PanAm President) negotiating with Leonardo DiCaprio are good examples of restrained acting. Cate Blanchett plays Katherine Hepburn wonderfully and won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, long time associate of Scorsese, helps this long-running movie. The crash scene, which is magnificently choreographed is an example of the photographer, sound effects editor and the art director all working in tandem for the director. I'm not a sound effects buff. But, every time I heard the engine roaring it was a different sound indicating the advancement in the aviation industry.

The movie garnered 11 Oscar nominations and won 5 of them, none in the top category. It has it's flaws, but still entertaining inspite of running close to 3 hours.

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