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The Aviator

Praising The Aviator is no easy feat with Martin Scorsese’s track record. Inarguably one of the greatest cineastes of his generation, Scorsese has maintained one constant throughout each of his projects, and that is to make each subject he tackles his own, and The Aviator is no different.

If you step back in time to 1990, post Goodfellas, you will find Scorsese poised with the world at his fingertips, figuratively speaking. However, with such a worthy filmography, where else is there left to go? That film had failed to reward the auteur with his first Oscar statuette for Best Director, and it was back to the drawing boards once again.

Age of Innocence successfully illustrated Scorsese’s range in regards to subject matter, perhaps in response to claims that the violence associated with much of his work had barred him from the prize in the past. However, unlike some of his previous films he was not rewarded with another nomination in the Best Director category.

What followed seemed to be a trend carrying the director through the rest of the decade, with a string of films that seemed to fall just short of box office gold and declining audience reprieve. What should have been lauded as a return to familiar territory in Bringing Out the Dead was instead panned as a snooze-project. Love it or hate it, the film seemed unfairly dismissed.

Over time, Scorsese’s projects moved from smaller more personal films circling themes of guilt and redemption while remaining rooted in urban human struggles to bigger budgeted sprawls of increasingly larger scope. The talk among many is that Scorsese’s next step needs to be cemented back into projects smaller in ilk and closer to the director on an intimate level.

Fair enough, but wasn’t that the purpose behind Bringing Out the Dead?

Gangs of New York was plagued enough as it is, being overburdened with interference on behalf of Harvey Weinstein. Okay, perhaps “interference” is a touch to confrontational. Needless to say, opinions regarding budget and scope seemed to clash with Scorsese’s ultimate vision for Gangs. Regardless, the film seemingly marked a step towards a creative rebuild for Scorsese, or so enthusiasts hoped prior to the announcement of his next project, a biopic focusing on the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio).

This brings us full circle to The Aviator. A film that appeared to be nothing short of cringe-worthy a month ago has utterly “wowed” me. Granted, this is no feat for Scorsese, as the film is no masterpiece by any means. Yet it still seems to fire on all cylinders, remaining detailed in scope without ever bogging down or failing to entertain. From the very moment the film begins, it moves at a pace that is embracing and exciting all at once.

It’s no mystery that Scorsese truly loves the cinema, as he has documented clearly on several occasions. Yet here, for the first time, it feels like he is making a film that falls within the same vein as the films he grew up admiring as a child. It occurred to me after an hour into the film that this is the first time Scorsese has tackled the process of film production outside of several of documentaries or specials focusing on his own work. Granted, Hughes is hardly a pinnacle figure of filmmaking, yet Scorsese infuses a genuine love for the process in which Hughes develops to film the dogfight sequences in his war epic, Hell's Angels.

In all his struggles to produce a big budget film that hits its mark with both critics and audiences, The Aviator is the closest Scorsese has come to achieving this goal, and it’s an enjoyable ride throughout. Some have ballyhooed the degree (or in some cases, lack) of attention paid to Hughes’ descent into mental illness, in his case Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, yet rather than gloss over the disease, Scorsese has dealt in subtle brush strokes, detailing enough to feel accurate while not becoming too bogged down in technicalities.

Overall, performances help out this endeavor. DiCaprio at first appears to look too young to fill Hughes’ shoes, but ultimately pulls off the necessary notes of turmoil and age respectfully. Despite his deft performance, it is Kate Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) that truly steals the show. The spirit of Hepburn is alive and well in Blanchett’s capable hands. She truly “gets” the appeal behind the actress while revealing vulnerability and struggle nestled discreetly beneath her rough exterior.

Hopefully, The Aviator will find its place somewhere amidst the other holiday releases during the award season, even if it isn’t the piece of groundbreaking cinema many have been hoping to see out of Scorsese as of late.


Mario Anima

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