Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
Howard Hughes was one of the most eccentric filmmakers ever to step out of Hollywood. He also had some of the most elite starlets in the world clinging to his arm. Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Jean Harlow were among his lovers. It was inevitable that a film would be made about his life, but the result is a surprisingly decent biopic marred by unnecessary backside nudity and profane language.
1927. Movies are slowly becoming the rage, and America cannot get enough of the big screen heroes. Into this world of glamour and glitz comes young Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), determined to make a name for himself on the silver screen. He's not an actor, but a director, and his latest project is Hell's Angels. First it takes him three years to film the thing. Then he decides that it should be a "talking picture," and goes back to the drawing board. Controversy surrounds the budding cinematic artist when he constantly comes into confrontation with the conservative censor's panel. They gripe about the violence, the amount of cleavage on his actresses, his plot lines. In the meantime, Howard goes home to the beautiful Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), then coming off the skids from a suffering career. Among his circle of friends are the intrepid Errol Flynn (Jude Law), and a haggle of would-be stars just waiting for their big break.
Movies are making his name synonymous with Hollywood, but airplanes are his first and only love. Howard undertakes an ambitious career in streamlining airplanes, attempting to create the fastest and most reliable planes on the market. During this time, his relationship with Katherine hits the rocks, and he begins a long string of affairs, including Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). The film is more about Howard than his achievements, focusing on his business struggles and rivalries, as well as the failures in his personal life. It's not compelling, but interesting simply for the people it portrays. Obviously the film doesn't touch on everything. It fails to reveal the true nature of some of these big-screen stars, but in the end gives the audience something to ponder. Classic-type films based in the Golden Age of Hollywood are popular because they're nostalgic, and this one is no different. The costuming is appropriate for the age, glamorous and practical, and the film has a beautiful score and decent cinematography.
The performances are really what carry the production off. I'm not a fan of DiCaprio, but he's very good in this role: appropriately eccentric, at times likable, and always unexpected. Cate Blanchett is outstanding. It's difficult to project yourself into such a well-known role, but she tackles it with the kind of ambition that has skyrocketed her career. She has Katherine down right to the amused little titter. Alec Baldwin makes a one-sided appearance, but part of that is based on scripting flaws. Audiences might also find it over-long, focusing on minor issues instead of the overall structure of Hughes life. I was never bored, but if you're not a fan of biopic-type productions, this may seem a little redundant. Sexual content was always a promised issue, although much to my surprise, it's almost nonexistent. Hughes is sexually involved with Katherine Hepburn and others, but they never take us beyond the bedroom door. He's shown unbuttoning the back of Hepburn's gown and kissing her as they recline on a sofa, but the camera fades away. Dialogue implies that he has his hand up the skirt of a waitress. We're treated to backside nudity on Hughes several times at various times in his life. Violence is minimal, with an airplane crashing into a fireball, and a few fist fights.
Language is the real issue. GD is used at a couple dozen times, along with multiple abuses of Jesus' name, and other general profanities (s**t, screwed, and one f-word). There are also some unpleasant sanitary issues, such as the knowledge that Hughes keeps bottles of urine lined up against the wall. The movie is worthwhile because it gives us a glimpse into paranoia, and shows us a hard-working man who followed his dreams even when he was told they were impossible. But Hughes is also a womanizing man who pushes the limits wherever he can. Scripture has a lot to say about purity in intentions. God wants us to achieve our mightiest, but not at the cost of our sanity or values.