Howard Hughes was a very strange man. My experience of the man prior to this came mainly from the portrayal of Hughes in James Ellroy’s excellent books American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. In these books it is the late stage Hughes who appears, secluded and increasingly riven with bizarre mannerisms whilst heavily involved with the development of Las Vegas. He is also, along with his penchant for Mormons, extremely racist. This facet of his personality is only hinted at in The Aviator which focuses instead on Hughes’ experiences from filming Hell’s Angels up to the legendary flight of his ‘Spruce Goose’ giant aeroplane (a derogatory name which Hughes hated).
It’s difficult to say how I feel about this film, it comes from a director whose work in the 70s, 80s and 90s was consistently brilliant. But I can’t think of a Scorsese film that measures up to this period since Casino. Much the same as The Departed and Gangs of New York I can’t help but feel that there are pacing issues with The Aviator, at 170 minutes it feels sluggish and occasionally directionless. DiCaprio is fine and the supporting cast are excellent, particularly Cate Blanchett’s turn as Katharine Hepburn. The real climax of the film isn’t the flight of the behemoth aeroplane but the congressional hearings where Hughes displayed his charisma and intelligence to defeat a bill which could have crushed his own plane company, TWA. It seems odd then that this particular storyline isn’t the real focus of the film.
The Aviator is a competent film but one that doesn’t linger in the memory which is pretty damning criticism for the man who made a series of cinema classics.