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February 21, 2005 | by  | in Film |
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The Aviator

Judging this film on its own, The Aviator passes as good entertainment, with a cursing-the-big-drink-before-the-film running time, amazing production and reasonably interesting story. It is also highly favoured for the Oscars, so it is worth seeing to figure out what all the fuss is about. The film is a biopic about Howard Hughes, the famous reclusive billionaire (if you don’t know who he is, Mr Burns was a parody of him in the episode when he runs the casino and goes crazy about germs in The Simpsons).

However, this is a Scorsese film. It is marketed as such and Scorsese himself is an auteur critic, so I’m entitled to judge The Aviator in relation to his rest of work. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but Scorsese is responsible for six of the greatest American films of the last thirty-five years (for the record Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy and Goodfellas). It is dangerous to use auteur theory on Scorsese, because he doesn’t often write his films, but they are often about outcast men trying to deal with societal expectations of masculinity, and who tend to drive themselves towards self-destruction. The Aviator fits right in.

Technically this film is amazing. The sound design (as usual), the editing and the cinematography are outstanding, highlighted especially in a scene involving a plane crash. However, The Aviator sometimes tends to get so carried away with its technical brilliance that it goes too far. An example is the opening scene, in which the portentous water drops and golden filters are far too over-the-top in their attempt to highlight that scene’s importance. In fact, that scene is woefully half-baked in its use to justify Hughes the man.

That early scene turns out to be a self-conscious attempt to try and emulate the Rosebud symbol of Citizen Kane (harsh, but I think reasonable). But where Welles’ film used its narrative structure with its technical brilliance (for the time) to create a masterpiece about a rich man losing himself with his youth, Scorsese’s film is a more straightforward chronological narrative. Coupled with poorly developed relationships (Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner is pitifully underdeveloped, as are most of the female characters with the exception of Cate Blanchett’s Katherine Hepburn) and a fatal over-length, the film ends up being rather empty. I just didn’t care about Hughes. In fact my reaction to the story about Howard Hughes was “so what?” Some rich nut who had too much money and spent it on what he liked. Whoop-di-doo. Maybe I’m being too harsh or expecting too much, but I just wish that Mr Scorsese would stop making films just for the Oscar. Because he can do so much better.

The Aviator
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Embassy, Hoyts, Reading

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About the Author ()

Brannavan Gnanalingam has come a long way from being born in the teeming metropolis of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He may be known as feature writer for Salient, but is also the only man in history to have simultaneously donated both his kidneys. He is also an amateur rapper going under the moniker Brantank and hopes to win a Grammy.

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