Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA/Germany, 2004. Forward Pass, , Initial Entertainment Group, Warner Bros., Miramax. Screenplay by John Logan. Cinematography by Robert Richardson. Produced by Sandy Climan, Matthias Deyle, Charles Evans Jr., Graham King, Michael Mann. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by Dante Ferretti. Costume Design by Sandy Powell. Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. Academy Awards 2004. Golden Globe Awards 2004.
Scintillating biopic of the millionaire mogul Howard Hughes’ younger years, when his dreams of aviation took him from Texas to Hollywood and then into the skies. Hughes takes his family fortune, made from the manufacturing of drill bits for Texan oil companies, and sinks it into film productions that end up breaking box office records: Hell’s Angels is one of the most exciting war movies ever produced (and its dangerous stunt photography is still quite impressive), Scarface thrills fans of violent movies and created the gangster genre, while The Outlaw launches the career of Jane Russell, gives the censors a stir for its sexual themes (and depiction of “mammaries”, apparently) and contributes a new design of brassiere (which Hughes himself designed) to the general public. Hughes isn’t content with movies, though, and purchases TWA (renaming it Trans World Airlines) in the hopes of building the fastest planes in the world and opening up commercial flying to a new level of public usage. Meanwhile, his personal life is dotted by a series of fascinating, complicated women who give him quite a lot to be occupied with on the ground when he isn’t traversing the skies, plus a parentally-induced case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that becomes worse and worse as he gets older and suffers more tragedies. To make matters worse, competition from Pan American Airlines has him being investigated for War Profiteering when some army contracts don’t pan out as expected. Despite the fact that the story travels many different plots and paths, director Martin Scorsese keeps everything in line with a brilliantly concise viewpoint and a fantastic performance by Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead, who is perfect as the idealistic man-child who thinks that anything is possible with the right amount of faith and gumption. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, particularly a brilliant, scene-stealing Cate Blanchett doing an uncanny Katharine Hepburn that really brings the great actress back to life. Thankfully, this movie about classic Hollywood is being made by a huge fan of classic Hollywood, so the gorgeous photography is in old Technicolour style, the production design is sumptuous and the costumes by Sandy Powell are authentically beautiful. The rest of the cast is completed by great celebrity cameos, including Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner (she wishes) and Frances Conroy as Hepburn’s mother, plus impressive appearances by Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly and Alan Alda.