Scorsese’s The Aviator is stunning to look at, it moves with an incredible speed (it’s an easy a 170-minute watch as there is), and it features DiCaprio giving us a tour-de-force lead performance (debatably his best).
Scorsese sets the frame marvelously with that opening- it’s a jaw-dropping mise-en-scene and then he and Robert Richardson (DP here) cue the lighting to roll up. This is just before the “Quarantine” bath scene
The shot from behind the head of DiCaprio at the Coconut Grove club. Again, Scorsese and RR turn the lights on—really strong
What Scorsese has achieved here color grading is important. He was inspired by the time period so in post-production he recreated the two-strip Technicolor. As the movie moves along (and we go decade by decade) the color changes. The effect on the front half of the film is palpable. It’s gorgeous. White shirts look mint, the golf course is blue, the peas are blue—the beet field a makes for a stunning, glowing art-on-the-wall production design/setting. It’s on par with the Coens and Roger Deakins grading the color in O, Brother Where Art Thou? In 2000.
Stand-alone stunning uses of wall-paper and production design all over the place. The bathroom at the Coconut Grove- it’s not just beautiful—it’s connected to character, to the OCD and debilitating conditions of Howard Hughes – obsessive, cleanliness, order—in setting and character as a match
Cate Blanchett is wonderful here (won the Academy Award) – it does take a minute to adjust to her quirkiness– she (as Katharine Hepburn) and Leo’s Hughes are so idiosyncratic (he’s a multi-tasking dynamo, can’t hear, germophobe) and big – great characters—but she goes toe to toe with him and they have a great intimate scene talking about how they are not like everyone else. Most of the film breezes by and is edited like a Capra film (a compliment) but this scene sticks—two of the best actors of our time at the top of their craft.
There’s some Scorsese himself here (ever the obsessive/perfectionist—and maybe the fast-taking multi-tasker?) in the exactness of Hughes- how he likes his chocolate chips. It reminds me of the De Niro Sam Rothstein with his blueberries in Casino. And the rise and fall structure here is Goodfellas
Scorsese and the flash-bulbs—a supercut needs to be done and probably has been
The ensemble casting- flawlessness. Jude Law as Errol Flynn—can you imagine another director getting Jude Law in 2004 for a role like this? And he’s great. Alec Badwin, Alda.
The narrative flies—so entertaining- DiCaprio matches Scorsese’s energy—and it’s great subject matter- the Hughes character is complex, vindictive, it keeps him afloat
Justifiably nominated for just about every Oscar and won for cinematography (Robert Richardson), editing )Thelma Schoonmaker), costume and art direction, Cate
Another stand-alone use of wallpaper and setting a frame is the introduction of Baldwin’s character (which we get from behind his head first mirroring the intro of Leo as an adult). And then we get a shot of the ceiling as mise-en-scene like Welles from a low-angle as he measures the globe.
Scorsese’s ongoing use of red and green’s for Eden and Hell—throughout his oeuvre
“show me all the blueprints” and “wave of the future” would be our formal cues if this were split into 2 sections and had an intermission like a 1960’s biopic Lawrence of Arabia-like epic
Alda’s hotel room- a stunner
The red hell color of DiCaprio’s self-made prison theater room. Red interiors, red flashing bulb, he uses the red car to smash the green one. These are choices in color design for an auteur
DiCaprio’s Texan vibrato-voice- studied
Front-loaded brilliance- I do think the first 90 minutes are stronger than the last hour—but still
Richard Corliss Time Magazine called Scorsese “preternaturally energetic”