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"The Aviator"

Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Written by John Logan.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  12/28/04


Let me make sure this is right--Martin Scorsese directed a PG-13 movie??

And, it's really good?

Even without the normal adult warfare that takes place in Scorsese's films--from the language to the sex to the over-the-top violence--"The Aviator" is the great director's best work since "Casino", which is now 10 years old (wow!).  A biopic of aviation mogul and film director Howard Hughes, "The Aviator" revolves around a 20-year period in the life of Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he takes his fortune made in drill bits and turns it into an enterprise that encompasses a production company, a plane manufacturing organization and eventually Trans World Airlines...all the while dating the country's most happenin' starlets, like Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), and Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani).  Oh, and he spends his spare time being a clean freak (MAJOR clean freak) and going completely insane.

"The Aviator" is just a class act; that's how I felt when I left the theater, anyway.  The production is beautiful (read: expensive-looking), with lavish sets and lush scenery at every turn.  The actors do great work, in all areas--the leads are all strong, you get great support from what seems like a hundred name actors in bit parts (is that Brent Spiner, aka Data from freakin' "Star Trek" fame?  Look, Willem Dafoe in a 30-second scene!), even the extras look great in the background.  I loved the score for "The Aviator"--not something you want to run out and buy, necessarily, just a great fit for the period.  There is no signature Scorsese montage sequence in this movie, but somehow that was okay with me.  And, the film takes enough time for us to get to know Hughes in a lot of ways, especially as he begins to unravel; the last 40 minutes or so don't feel as laborious as they have in other films that have a rise-and-fall arc to their main plotline.

But, that's where "The Aviator" separates from other films of its type--this isn't a rise-and-fall biopic.  By spending enough time going back and forth between highs and lows for Hughes, we never get to spend too much time watching him enjoy the good life, nor suffer through his decision-making for any extended stretch.  Plus, the lead performance by DiCaprio is just something to behold--he's a monster in this movie.  You sometimes get caught thinking about why he doesn't work very often; his contemporary Jude Law shows up in "The Aviator" for a little while, and then you realize that you can't put out seven movies a year and be good in all of them, so why not be great in one every other year?  I don't know if Oscar will be good to him or not, but he is good enough to at least warrant the conversation.

You get the dramatic angle here; you get some funny lines ("Smooth titties, gentlemen" ranks amongst the best of the year); you get some tense flight sequences, you get a courtroom showdown.  And, you get Alec Baldwin, playing the whitest Juan you are EVER going to see onscreen but it's irrelevant, because Baldwin spends his time doing what he does best--chewing the fat like no one else in the business.  Every measured smirk and sly grin made me laugh; man, I love that guy.

As I mentioned, as a PG-13, "The Aviator" is missing just a little edge, whether it be a sex scene here or a profanity-laced tirade there, but it's not enough to drop it a grade...I thought this was a great movie, and in a weak year like 2004, it may have a shot at a nomination for the top prize when all is said and done.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09