A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Aviator is a 2004 biopic in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes. This movie has some very violent airplane crashes, some causing serious injury. Characters drink, smoke, and use occasional profanity, including "f--k." There are explicit sexual references and situations and some nonsexual nudity. Some audience members may be upset by the scenes involving Hughes' struggles with OCD. In addition to the highs and lows of his career in both aviation and film, Hughes is shown having relationships with different women, as well as with a 15-year-old girl. Overall, the movie shows the complexities and paradoxes of Howard Hughes, and how his high standards that led to his success were rooted in traumas and illness that also led to his unraveling.
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What's the story?
THE AVIATOR chronicles the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), the man who produced era-defining movies, dated the world's biggest movie stars (Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow), founded an airline (TWA), owned seven Las Vegas casinos, designed and test-piloted airplanes, risked fortunes and made bigger ones, and died as a recluse, the prisoner of illness and of the greedy people around him who did whatever he said instead of insisting he get help. Hughes assembles the world's largest private air force to make a movie, designs and flies experimental airplanes, gets trapped in the men's room because he can't bear to touch the germ-covered doorknob, and takes on the most formidable of opponents, from Katharine Hepburn's family to the movie rating board and Maine's corrupt senator.
Is it any good?
A true story that is both touching and thrilling and tons of talent on both sides of the camera are enough to make this a good movie, but not enough to make it a great one. Hughes' larger-than-life story could easily fill six movies, so even this energetic and muscular three-hour-epic feels like it's just skimming the surface. There's no way to try to cover even this one section of Hughes' life without making it feel like a "greatest hits" clip job instead of a story with a real narrative arc. And it never rises from incident to insight.
The second problem is Leonardo DiCaprio, who is a brilliantly gifted actor, but here his squint, tics, and accent make Hughes seems more like a kid struggling with ADD than the tortured larger-than-life tycoon. But no one does pageantry better than Scorcese, and this is a brilliant film, even with its flaws. Cate Blanchett brings Katherine Hepburn to life. Kate Beckinsale is adequate as Ava Gardner. The crash scene is bone-chillingly harrowing, and the scenes of old-time Hollywood reflect the director's deep love of that era. Like the life it depicts, it's uneven and fascinating.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what made Hughes so passionate about his many projects. Why didn't he want people to know he could not hear? Why wouldn't Ava Gardner let him buy anything other than dinner?
How were the contradictions in the personality of Howard Hughes conveyed in the movie -- how, for instance, he was more afraid of touching a public doorknob than he was of flying a test plane?
What facts can you glean from this movie about the origins and development of the commercial aviation industry in America? How could you learn more?
Families may also want to learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Would Hughes have had to get treatment if he weren't surrounded by people who would do whatever he said to continue working for him?
- In theaters: December 17, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: May 24, 2005
- Cast: Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Leonardo DiCaprio
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 166 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence