The first thing one notices in a Martin Scorsese film, is the exuberant style in which he colours all his work. Harvey Keitel's bar room entrance in Mean Streets. The on-the-road landscapes of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. DeNiro's cab winding its way through the wet, smokey neon streets of midtown Manhattan in Taxi Driver. The gashing blows and gushing blood of Raging Bull. The pool hall explosives of The Color of Money. The coke-induced intensities of Goodfellas. The unreal back-from-the-dead finale of Cape Fear. The hyper-sensitive mind-fuck attitudes of Bringing out the Dead. The blood-stained snowy wars of The Gangs of New York. Now we have the stunningly filmed aero-dynamics of The Aviator. Unfortunately The Aviator never kicks into the almost ubiquitous overdrive usually associated with the thumping oeuvre of Maestro Scorsese.
Not a bad film mind you (unless you compare it to earlier Scorsese), but still a rather drab film that, if it were not for the occasional images of intense scorsese-esque filmmaking, could have easily been directed by any old studio hack. Some of this may be due to the fact of Scorsese aging and possibly mellowing - Kurosawa (one of Scorsese's idols) made his most mellow films at the end of his life, but although he was a lot older than Scorsese is now when he made Dreams, Rhapsody in August and Madadayo (his final three films), Kurosawa still kept his style intact throughout - Scorsese can't keep it together for the run of The Aviator. Perhaps it is just the fact that this mainly amounts to a studio picture without his usual control, but then Scorsese always wanted to make a studio picture.
But the thing that makes this film fall below where it should is not entirely the fault of Scorsese mellowing (not that that is necessarily a fault), but more along the lines of Scorsese's casting choice to play Howard Hughes. Leonardo DiCaprio, who appeared in Scorsese's last picture, Gangs of New York (to less than enthusiasm from this Critic) and will appear in Scorsese's next project, the American remake of the Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs (again, not very enthusiatic about this casting scenario), is simply put - not one bit convincing as the eccentric tycoon-cum-filmmaker Hughes. Although he is the same age as Hughes was during the central part of the film (thirty), he in no way pulls off playing an adult role (c'mon he looks sixteen - eighteen at most - even when they glue a false mustache to his lip). DiCaprio not only appears young, but he has no maturity as an actor either. I'm not sure what Scorsese has been thinking the past few years - since De Niro has gone off to do pathetic charicaturistic comedic turns at the expense of his own image, Scorsese had to turn to Leo ??? Granted, DiCaprio has broadened some under Scorsese's tutelage (he is a much better actor than he was ten years ago - even five years ago) but to the point of carrying a picture as big as this? Not yet Leo. Perhaps someday if you keep listening to Scorsese, but not quite yet.
As for the rest of the cast (w/ the quick exception of a five minute cameo by Jude Law as a self-centered egomaniac Errol Flynn and Alan Alda's small role as a rightwing Senator out to destroy Hughes) only Cate Blanchett manages to shine - and shine about as bright as ever - playing the great Kate Hepburn. Blanchett not only does a dead-on impersonation of Hepburn, she seems as if she may be channeling her as well. As an Oscar sidenote: it would be great to see the Great Cate play the Great Kate and finally win the Oscar she was blatently and nepotismally robbed of in 1998 when she played Elizabeth I - perhaps Hepburn's record of four Academy awards can guide Blanchett to her first. John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin, very talented Actors both, have nothing to do but sit there as DiCaprio goes off the deep end of over-acting (sometimes precariously close to Shatner/Heston levels) and Kate Beckinsale, who should be seen and never heard, fails dismally at playing the much more talented Ava Gardner.
Overall, Scorsese has captured nothing of Hughes' life worth capturing. The one lifeline that would be worth tackling (especially for someone of Scorsese's style) is only ever eluded to briefly - the obsessive compulsive recluse Hughes would eventually become. Which, by the way, makes me wonder how a man as OCD as Hughes was (he couldn't even touch the doorknob of a restroom without the deathly fear of germs attacking his system) managed to exchange so much body fluids with so many different Hollywood starlets ?! Hey, but at least Scorsese has gotten to do his coveted studio picture. [12/27/04]