Has the bones of generic biopic but is made even stronger by Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan’s decision not to tell the full Howard Hughes story, but a very specific chunk.
DiCaprio’s performance is gargantuan as is the electrifying filmmaking from Scorsese. The countless flourishes sizzle off the screen – that colour timing, Schoonmaker’s crackerjack cutting, my god – making it an absolute visual delight from beginning to end. It’s soaked with a twenties razzle dazzle that so few period flicks manage to conjure and Hughes’ psychotic breakdowns are foregrounded by pure cinema. Of all the cinematographers Scorsese has worked with, his collaborations with Robert Richardson are my favourite. Richardson’s penchant for hot top-lighting and deep blacks (also heavily present in his work with Oliver Stone and Tarantino) are beautifully offset by Marty’s roaming expressionistic camera and unorthodox montage. Scorsese is king of the jarring edit and he really gets you into Hughes headspace via rug-pull inserts – the early split-second shot of Hughes dusting the soiled napkin under the table, for instance, hits like a bullet.
All this stuff is like cocaine to me and any chance to watch a master like Scorsese operate with such endless resources is a treat from frame one. The aeroplane crash sequence is one of my favourite set-pieces from the 2000s and there are countless other moments, performances and stylistic choices in The Aviator that constantly crop up in my subconscious. This is when the Marty and Leo years really kicked it up a notch. A film that flies close to the sun but keeps its wings fully intact.