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Saturday Night Movie

January 31st, 2005 (12:04 am)

I made one of my infrequent visits to the cinema on Saturday night, to see The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's three-hour epic dramatizing (heavily) the career of Howard Hughes from the late 1920s until c.1950. Leonardo DiCaprio gives probably the best performance of his career as Hughes; no longer will there be Spielbergs trying to shoehorn him into roles for which he is too old, as in Catch Me If You Can. Unlike some of the press reviewers, I never thought the film lost pace. The aviation scenes, of which there are many, are spectacular, and there were a number of scenes where one can feel oneself up in the clouds with Hughes, or indeed crashing to the ground. There's a great supporting cast, including Brent Spiner from Star Trek - The Next Generation as Robert Gross, head of Lockheed Industries, and one of the many conventional businessmen roped into Hughes's schemes. Cate Blanchett gives a superb, indeed sexy, performance as Katherine Hepburn; and while I shared the impression of many British commentators that Kate Beckinsale, as Ava Gardner, is a weak link, this may be because Gardner doesn't have the same reputation for eccentricity that Hughes and Hepburn had, so there is no caricature in the popular imagination from which Beckinsale can draw.

Caricature is important, because this is a larger-than-life film, and it's less history than Hollywood myth. Hughes's womanizing is rendered charming rather than exploitative; his teenage girlfriend Faith Domergue appears later in the film but though she is seen being turned into a wreck by Hughes's treatment of her, the film is too sympathetic to Hughes for the audience to care. Nonetheless, it would be no surprise to me if The Aviator carries off a number of Academy Awards.