Opening 20 Jan 2005
Director Martin Scorsese has created a beautiful, fast-paced film about the life of billionaire Howard Hughes. Orphaned at age 18, Hughes was the sole heir of a Texas fortune derived from the Hughes’ Tool Company. The film opens four years later and HH is directing an action film in California about World War I aviators called Hell’s Angels. A perfectionist, the film was released with Hughes’ blessing three years later, the most expensive film ever to be made then. It was re-shot for various reasons, including having to turn it into the newest thing: a talking movie. This film career brought glamour girls to his house, but the film limits itself to a few prime examples such as Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner. He designed the half-cup bra for Jane Russel who starred in his film Scarface.
Flying was his real love and over the next thirty years Hughes builds, tests, and crashes airplanes such as the H-1 and a flying boat called the Spruce Goose. He broke Charles Lindbergh’s speed record. Film highlights are scenes in the Coconut Grove night club, an airplane crash in Beverly Hills, a visit with Hepburn’s family, his appearance at Senate Hearings in which he successfully represents his case of TWA’s right to fly trans-Atlantic against devious Maine Senator Brewster and the head of Pan Am, who wish to prosecute him.
Cate Blanchett plays Katherine Hepburn as exactly as anyone could; she is close enough for us to realize how much we miss Kate. Thirty-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes ages from 22 to about 45. He disappears into the role until you forget that this is baby-faced Leo. If Jamie Foxx does not receive an Academy Award for Ray, then Leo has a chance. Scorsese has collected a fine cast for all roles: John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, Kelli Garner, etc., but the film stands on its excellent script (John Logan) and editing (Thelma Schoonmaker) and camera (Robert Richardson who likes shots from the back of the head). It’s a visual gift with colors copied from old Technicolor techniques, costumes designed from old photos, and authentic sets, some filmed on the original sites (Hughes’ house at Muirfield House or Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and some on the Queen Mary luxury liner, but most are filmed in Canada. The story stops before hypochondriac Hughes completely loses his senses to his different forms of phobias and his death at age 71 in 1976. He was probably truly a bastard or at least a profiteer in business (“I don’t want them bribed, I want them bought.”) with connections to the CIA and Richard Nixon, but the film emphasizes his human side which is good enough to awaken an interest in pursuing the subject: genius or monster, on your own. (Highly recommended) (Becky Tan)