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"Here's my plan, see," says Jude Law,
"if I make an appearance in every single
movie released, from October on, I'm
guaranteed to win some sort of award,
see -- even if it is only sexiest man
alive!"

The Aviator
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Every five years, or so, a motion picture comes along powerful enough to make movie fans weak in the knees and enchanting enough to remind them that watching films isn't merely a hobby -- it's a love affair.  This happened to me twice in 1999; first with The Iron Giant and again with American Beauty.  It hasn't happened since.  While I've loved a lot of movies that have been released since '99, none of them were able to pull me deep enough inside of them to erase the troubles of the outside world, or cause me to lose myself in their poetic embrace.  While there were sparks, I had nearly given up on any real passion returning to this love affair.  That was before The Aviator came into my life; rekindling the romance and reigniting the passion.    

You don't watch the best of films; you experience them.  From beginning to end, The Aviator is an experience.  Based on the life of one of the 20th Century's most intriguing men, The Aviator becomes what will inevitably turn out to be one of the 21st Century's most intriguing films.  Starting in the late twenties (excluding an awkward "prologue") and ending in the late forties, the film is not the "life story" of Howard Hughes, as much as it's a story of the passions that made up his life. 

Two groups of people are going to love this film -- movie fans and fans of flying.  If you live and breathe movies -- not just modern films, but the classics -- you'll be mesmerized by the recreation of "The Golden Age of Hollywood" in The Aviator.  The script, acting and directing snaps, crackles and pops with energy during the scenes when Hell's Angels is being filmed.  Hughes is at the top of his game, at this point in his life, and while signs of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that would later consume his very existence are present, they aren't yet holding him captive.  The Aviator soars during these scenes and, if you're a film fanatic/historian, the movie will own you within the first 60 minutes of its three hour runtime. 

While I'm much more a fan of film than I am of flying, I couldn't help but be seduced by the aviation in this movie.  Anyone with any interest in planes won't be able to take their eyes off of the screen during the flying sequences.  While not as breathtaking as Hughes' own aviation scenes in Hell's Angels (a film that will never be topped, in that respect), director Martin Scorsese has committed the best Computer Generated takeoffs, landings and dogfights to film.  The budget for this movie must have been enormous, because these scenes made everyone in the theater forget that they were looking at special effects and instead had them believing in the experience.  Imagine Jerry Bruckheimer with talent.  Or Pearl Harbor, if it was good.  Any time a plane takes off in this film; prepare to move your ass toward the edge of your seat. 

Hughes love of film and obsession with flight are only paralleled by his passion for women.  Especially Hollywood starlets.   The romance between Howard Hughes and Katharine Hepburn is a powerful one.  Three scenes between the couple are especially captivating; one in the sky (a romantic scene where Hughes shows his trust of Hepburn), another on a golf-course (where Hepburn shows her love of Liberalism) and the final in the bathroom (when Hughes admits that he's worried that he's losing his mind).  Katharine Hepburn's lines about "taking the wheel" could come off as sappy, if delivered by the wrong actress.  Howard Hughes' fear of losing his mind could come off as melodramatic, if delivered by the wrong actor.  Fortunately, Hepburn is played perfectly by Cate Blanchett and Leonardo DiCaprio puts in the best performance of 2004, as Howard Hughes.

This leads to a third group of people who are sure to love this film -- fans of acting.  If you study the craft of acting, if you love the art of acting, if you just appreciate a damn good performance, or two, you're going to be blown away by what The Aviator provides.  It is rare that a movie will contain the best male and female performance of the year, but The Aviator has them both.  Cate Blanchett is doing much more than merely an impersonation of Katharine Hepburn.  She is giving a touching, daring portrayal of one of the greatest actresses of our time.  Messing up the part of Alexander the Great in a failed epic like Alexander could be a mild career setback.  Doing an injustice to a modern public figure, loved by millions, would more likely than not be career suicide.  Cate took the chance and brings the one and only Kate to life.  For doing so, and doing so incredibly well, she deserves an Oscar.  

Although the Leo haters -- usually homophobic/closeted males between 23-35 years old, jealous that their high school crushes thought Leo was cuter than they were, or pissed that Titanic knocked Star Wars off the top spot as the world's top-grossing movie -- will call me a "fag" for saying this, I think Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of the innovative, eccentric Howard Hughes is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.  Not only is it the best performance of 2004, it's the best of the 21st Century (admittedly, that has only been four years, but saying "the last four years" doesn't sound as good as saying "the 21st Century"). 

The way he goes from playing a confident playboy to a panicky man, trying to stop himself from repeating portions of sentences, trying to stop himself from repeating portions of sentences (oops, sorry), to a man at the heights of insanity, locked away nude in a projection room, saving his urine in bottles, and then back to a man confident enough to go face-to-face with a Senator, in front of television cameras and a room full of people, shows Leonardo DiCaprio to be one of the most versatile actors to ever step in front of a movie camera.  2/3rd's of the way into the movie, I wouldn't have been surprised if he could have made himself age 20 years, without the help of makeup.  This guy really can do it all, as an actor (and would have made a far better Anakin Skywalker than the cardboard cutout Hayden Christensen did).    

Maybe someday I'll write a "sequel" to this review and address the excellent supporting cast, including Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda, and Jude Law.  They each breathe life into their respective characters.  John C. Reilly plays the kind, supportive, worried man John C. Reilly almost always plays.  Alec Baldwin plays a snake of a man, who runs Pan am airlines and basically controls the vindictive, hypocritical Senator Brewster, played by Alan Alda.  Jude Law is perfectly cast as the flamboyant Errol Flynn.  He's not in the movie much, but seeing as how he's in pretty much every movie released over the past month or two, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  We also have short but sweet performances from Brent Spiner, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm and others too numerous to mention. 

Martin Scorsese paints these excellent performances onto a grand tapestry of color, sight and sound.  Robert Richardson's cinematography is probably the best I've seen all year.  The editing by Thelma Schoonmaker is extremely effective and brings the plane crashes and dogfights to life, while keeping the romances and personal tragedies grounded in reality, rather than MTV.  The set, costume, sound, makeup, visual FX and art departments should all be commended for a job well-done.  Not since the Lord of the Rings' trilogy has a group of production teams coordinated so effectively to create such a beautiful end result.  I'd like to thank them all for reminding me that attending movies isn't merely a hobby or only a job ... it's a love affair. 

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

RECENT REVIEWS (click here to see ALL films reviewed in the last three months):

Million Dollar Baby
Meet the Fockers
Spanglish
Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events
Closer
Blade: Trinity
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Finding Neverland
The Incredibles
After the Sunset
Saw
The Grudge

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COMING SOON - Reviews of Million Dollar Baby, The Phantom of the Opera and, just because it's been requested more than ANY other movie yet to be reviewed on this site, Hellboy (so who says I don't listen to my readers?)!

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