John C Reilly
A Scorsese movie is always an event. Even the disappointing nature of some of his recent efforts has done little to dull expectations. Although this, his hotly anticipated biopic of movie mogul and aircraft tycoon Howard Hughes, is on a similarly grand scale to Gangs Of New York, it is by far the more subtle and satisfying film.
That's not to say this is Scorsese at his peak. The Aviator lacks the raw visceral edge that characterised his early output and, except for the occasional visual flourish, this looks and feels far more like Spielberg than Scorsese. It's a gentler and glossier piece of film making than previous expletive-packed epics like Goodfellas and Casino and it's not likely to have the same impact on cinematic conventions - however it is still a gorgeously shot and compelling account of a fascinating life.
Howard Hughes lived life in a big way. As a film maker his First World War epic Hell's Angels is still comparatively one of the most expensive films ever made, and The Aviator depicts its long and troubled shoot in some detail. A legendary cinephile, Scorsese obviously relished this opportunity to recreate Hollywood's golden age and in the first half of the film there are some lavish scenes of parties and premieres but, as the title suggests, the film's primary concern is with Hughes' role as an aeroplane man.
The owner of TWA, Hughes broke the speed record for flying around the world and, with the infamous 'Spruce Goose', built a plane far larger even than those shiny, new airbuses they're so excited about at the moment. But as well as being a driven and ambitious businessman Hughes was also a very troubled individual, beset by phobias and obsessive-compulsive tendencies that gradually took over his life and eventually led to him hiding away in a darkened room, naked, unwashed and unshaven, collecting his urine in milk bottles.
Faced with the daunting task of playing Hughes' lover Katherine Hepburn, Cate Blanchett turns in a wonderful performance, effortlessly recreating her vocal tics and mannerisms. The film paints Hughes and Hepburn as kindred spirits and there are some achingly tender moments between them. It's to DiCaprio's credit that he more than holds his own beside her. Always a capable actor, it's unfortunate, and no fault of his own, that his boyish looks frequently undermine his abilities.
Casting him once more in a lead role, Scorsese obviously has confidence in DiCaprio and his is a subtle, intelligent performance - he shows great restraint in his portrayal of Hughes' increasingly fragile mental state, but there's something about his physicality that makes it difficult to connect with him as a character.
As Ava Gardener, Kate Beckinsale has far less to do, but she manages to convey a strong sense that beneath the starlet's perfect face lies a kind heart and a real affection for Hughes. The film also finds room for a couple of striking cameos, from Gwen Stefani and Jude Law as Errol Flynn, displaying more humour and charisma in his two minute turn than in the entirety of Alfie.
At just under three hours, it's a long ride, and even at that length there are gaps in the plot: the brief attempts to explain the causes of Hughes' obsessive behaviour seem cursory and contrived. Always the innovator, Scorsese has clearly embraced CGI and has used it to create some spectacular flight scenes - Hughes' near fatal crash on a test flight is particularly terrifying - but ultimately this is a film with some great moments rather than a truly great film.