I wanted to see this in the theatre, but never got to it. My mom mentioned that my grandma was interested in the movie. I have some 2+-year-old Blockbuster gift cards that I need to use up, so I picked this up on the way over there.
Just after Hughes' death, I had seen a made-for-TV movie about him. I think Warren Beatty played him. So I had a clue about some of his life, albeit that was a long time ago.
After a brief opening scene with his mother instilling in him the fear of diseases, this movie starts on the set of his first movie, Hell's Angels. A story about the WW I air battle, and the most expensive movie ever made up to that time. They don't dwell on the details of the making-of for very long. Instead, they use it to set the tone of his perfectionism. And his loose handling of money. And the grandeur of his visions. For example, reshooting a huge, complicated flying battle scene in order to get clouds in the background to give the audience a sense of speed.
I didn't remember that he had done this many movies, nor their subjects. I do remember that he had designed a bra that worked better on camera, but that was later on.
But this movie focuses largely on his aviation achievements. Thus, the title.
Simultaneously with the filming of Hell's Angels he was designing a racer to set a new speed record. And this happened several times in the movie. He often had several balls in the air at one time. They never really show him fumbling them, though.
Early on, they show him as the lady's man. He seduces a cocktail waitress in just a few seconds. Then later they show him with a parade of hot actresses. He dated Kathryn Hepburn for quite awhile. (Played by Cate Blanchett, who did an excellent job. I actually had a great deal of trouble recognizing her, again. And she really captured the voice mannerisms.) He also dated Ava Gardner (played by Kate Beckinsale who looked stunningly beautiful.) And, they show him apparently dating a 15-yr-old. It was unclear, but I guess she came to his attention in an audition. I guess she ended up as one of his harem, stashed around L.A.
Also early on they show symptoms of his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. At one point he orders his "usual." A steak, and on the side of the plate are exactly 15 peas arranged neatly in a grid. Another character, I think Errol Flynn, grabs a pea off of his plate and that freaks him out a little. The guy touching his plate means he can't eat any of it.
I watched some of the extras before writing this, including some of the stuff on OCD. I didn't really know a lot about it prior to the movie. Just the general idea of compulsive repetition. One thing that they didn't address in the extras is whether or not the paranoia and borderline hallucinations are part of OCD, or if those were another unrelated condition.
I suspect they conflated a few episodes together, to help the drama along. The chief example might be his episode of living in his screening room, apparently for weeks. I'm not sure if he had gotten that bad that early in his life. I get the feeling they stole details of his life in Vegas and injected them into this earlier episode.
Interestingly, when he was forced to come out, he did manage to pull himself together quite successfully for awhile. Ava Gardner apparently helped him quite a lot. They portrayed her as caring, but firm, and very effective at encouraging him through his discomforts.
They had a top flight cast, even for some of the smaller roles. Jude Law and Willem Dafoe each get about three minutes on-screen. Alec Baldwin plays a nemesis in the form of the head of Pan Am. Baldwin has Alan Alda, a US Senator from Maine, in his pocket, and uses him to introduce legislation that would give Pan Am a monopoly on transcontinental routes.
One character that the don't play up nearly as much as the made-for-TV movie I saw was Noah Dietrich, the head of his tool company. He does get a lot of screen time, but in the earlier movie he seemed nearly Hughes' right-hand man. That didn't come across as strongly to me in this movie.
I was very surprised where they ended the story. My mom thought that possibly they stopped it where they did because most of what's available about his later life is conjecture. Also, this part of his life, outside of one major break from reality, really is a testament of a very impressive individual. Intelligent, tenacious, driven and innovative. He certainly had flaws, but he achieved some extraordinary things.
Visually and in camera movement, this is pretty clearly a Scorsese film. But there's essentially no brutality, which I've come to associate with his films.
One thing that jumped out at me was a couple of scenes from Hell's Angels when they showed color explosions in a black and white film. I don't know if Scorsese threw that in for artistic reasons, or if Hughes was able to put color into the film for short sequences.
Another little glitch that bugged me was during the H-1 Racer scene. As he came in for his passes they showed him shoving the stick forward, implying that was part of him going fast. I don't know why the felt the need to do that.
On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Rental with Dinner. A pretty interesting overview of Howard Hughes early- to mid-life.
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