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Culture Reviews
The Aviator /By M.Scorsese/
Dome Cinema 
By Sam Gerrans
Written by John Logan. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm. 170 minutes. USA.

Review top sheet: “The Aviator” is a catalogue of episodes from the life of Howard Hughes as interpreted by the Hollywood machine. Lots of gloss with no discernable theme.

No amount of ?-la “Titanic” computer-generated effects, isolated “fuzzy-feeling” moments or functional performances from actors you’ve really liked in other things can distract from the fact that is a long film. Take sandwiches and a flask of coffee and sit near an aisle.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: coolly-executed decadence and split-second decisions concerning tens of millions of dollars and the lives of thousands of people impress you.
No, if: you consider that in the time it took to watch this film, you could have cleared up your flat, done your laundry and finished preparing for that difficult nine-o’clock meeting you’re not looking forward to.
Maybe, if: you have a secret crush on DiCaprio and nurture the hope that by some unbelievable confluence of circumstances, you and he are destined to end up sharing a cab one day.

Comments: As a reviewer, I have three principles. Firstly, I go to a showing “clean” (that is, I know nothing about the film other than what it is called and, perhaps, who is in it). Secondly, I want to like the film. I am not a film snob. I have no axe to grind against “Hollywood”, and nor do I think only obscure Polish art films in black and white have value. I turn up ready to like what I see. Thirdly, I write my own review and submit it before reading anyone else’s.

To my mind, this film has a recipe. And here it is: first, condense twenty years of Hughes’ life down to a set of bullet points and put it through a blender. Add two shots of “The Great Gatsby”, a dash of DiCaprio’s “Catch Me If You Can”, and a pinch of Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Then shake hard, pour into glasses and garnish with a “Titanic” cherry. Et voila. That’ll be ten bucks, please.

I felt ripped off. The cinema is not the place for epic storytelling (unless you’re up for a trilogy). You just end up with a barrel of nibbled apples. And that annoys me. Not only did the makers of this film not eat the apples themselves, now nobody else can either.

A story has to have a theme, a central idea which universalises the particulars and makes the story worth watching, since we can learn from it. “The Aviator” has no theme. There is nothing to unify it other than the fact that DiCaprio is good looking and the film clearly cost a packet to make.

Hughes is an interesting character, and after this film I am more likely to read an in-depth biography about him. And this is the film’s chief value. It will stand as a saccharine monument to the man and remind people that if they want to learn anything of substance about him, they will have to go somewhere else.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: *
• Dialogue: *
• Substance: *
• Film craft: ****

Story comments: very bitty and episodic. I would have preferred the makers to bite off less and chew it more.

Dialogue comments: bland and functional. The film is dutifully and competently executed, but there is no getting away from the fact that it really has nothing to say no matter how much it says it.

Substance comments: yes, Hughes was an aviation visionary. He thought bigger than big. He flew his kite very high. And that’s passably interesting for a quarter of an hour. But after that I’m getting into my “so what?” zone. It’s like when new Russians try to impress you with how much the various features of the new dacha cost. It wears thin pretty quickly. I’m glad it makes you happy, but it doesn’t move me in any way. Why should it? It’s not my dacha. You need a gift for being impressed by ostentation, and I don’t have it. That said, I couldn’t help noticing how Hughes’ mammoth “Goose” plane - which cost untold millions, flew for only a matter of seconds, and was good thereafter only for scrap – works as a fitting metaphor for the film made about his life.

Film craft comments: this film is a visual fiesta and expertly made. It put me in mind of a firework display on a Milan catwalk.

A taste of the story: Howard Hughes (DiCaprio) spends unimaginable sums of money on humungous projects – some of which work and some of which don’t. And between bouts of looking really cool, curling his eyebrows, making vital snap judgments based on nothing more than a ten-second acquaintance with the facts and getting cosy with a series of Hollywood stars, he also manages to find time to become mentally ill.

Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

05.02.05
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