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Review (8/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)

As I sit here in a plane, flying over the Rocky Mountains, I am speechless as to what I am seeing right now. Never have I seen scenery that is so beautiful in my entire life. I can only wonder what Howard Hughes would have thought. He was a man with visions beyond his time. Born in the early 1900's, he had a passion for movie-making, aviation and women. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the eccentric mogul in The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorcese.

The movie takes us primarily through the years when Hughes took some of the fortune he inherited from his father's drill bit company and moved out to California, where he spent years and millions of dollars making the World War I epic movie "Hell's Angels". At the time, the movie cost almost $4 million to make, which made it far and away the most expensive movie of its time. Howard would be rolling in his grave today if he heard the budget of pretty much any Hollywood movie.

He then turned his attention to the airline business, taking over the airline TWA and turning his efforts into designing the fastest plane ever and the largest plane ever. The Hercules, a plane whose wing span was bigger than a football field and whose height reached 15 stories, became somewhat of an obsession for Howard Hughes. It was his goal to get this flying boat into the air. Despite his foray into the aviation business, Hughes still had time to make movies (he brought us the original Scarface and desperately tried to become the first filmmaker to show "mammeries" on the big screen) and he still had time for a number of liasons with some of the world's most beautiful women, including Katharine Hepbrun (played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). Despite his successes in life, Hughes' eccentric behaviour, his compulsive fear of germs and a handful of other phobias led him to eventually lead the life of a hermit, locked up in a room, with long fingernails, unshaven and naked, only to emerge in what would be one of his final public appearances, to stand before a congressional committee headed by Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda). Brewster was attempting to attack Hughes' character and destroy TWA in favour of Pan Am Airlines, which was not surprisingly run by one of Brewster's top financial supporters, Juan Tripp (Alec Baldwin).

The Aviator takes us on a trip through these years of the life of Howard Hughes, where we see him go from a young yet naive filmmaker to one of the world's richest and most successful men. Despite his accomplishments, he could not overcome the phobias we see develop to the point where he becomes very reclusive and very alone. The movie also features John C. Reilly as Hughes' financial advisor Noah Dietrich (it must be Oscar time isn't it Mr. Reilly?), Jude Law as Errol Flynn (can someone tell me a movie that Jude HASN'T been in this year?), Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Adam Scott as publicist Johnny Meyer, Ian Holm as the useful Professor Fitz and Willem Dafoe as a slimey tabloid reporter.

The Aviator has much of the glitz and glamour that we should expect from such a movie and I am sure that despite his dislike of public attention, Howard Hughes would expect nothing less from a movie about his life. Spend as much money you can and make it good. And that's exactly what Scorcese has done. He has made a very, very good movie. It's long, with a running time of somewhere around 2:45, I would guess. But it's well-acted, well-filmed and it tells us a story about one of the most fascinating men of the 20th century that many of us probably did not know.

As for Leonardo DiCaprio, is his performance Oscar-worthy? I think so. At least a nomination. His performance only got stronger as the film went on and by the time the congressional hearing rolled around, I was no longer seeing Leo on the screen. I almost felt like it was the real Howard Hughes. Those congressional hearings were really something else to watch. Cate Blanchett also deserves kudos for her strong performance as screen legend Hepburn. In fact, the entire cast of this movie was outstanding. The story-telling part of the movie was good, although I would have also liked to have gone deeper into the mind of Howard Hughes, if that is even possible. And yeah, I would have liked to have seen a bit more about the eccentric behaviour, especially in his later years, but that is not what this film is about and I understand why the filmmakers did not go there. Did you know that Hughes moved to a Las Vegas hotel where eventually the staff attempted to evict him so he simply bought the hotel and continued his reclusive life there? Or after his death, coroners found about 400 needle tips stuck in his body?

Nevertheless, The Aviator is about an ambitious and visionary man, a perfectionist who made a historical mark on the world of aviation and moviemaking before his eccentric behaviour slowly changed his life. To cover only twenty years of such a fascinating life is disappointing but forgivable. This is a movie that is not for everyone but if you have any interest in American history or Howard Hughes or if you want to see one of the finer acting performances this year from Mr. DiCaprio, this is the film for you.

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