Martin Scorsese is an admittedly squeamish flyer himself, but for his Howard Hughes biopic, he puts the viewer in the cockpit like few other directors have done. Hughes’ pioneering enthusiasm for flight, his inventor’s ingenuity, and his perfectionism and obsessive behavior all come together in his filming of aerial epic Hell’s Angels. Later, we see Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) court Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) by taking her flying over Hollywood, a date no other suitor could have matched.
Ultimately, we see him as a test pilot who endures a terrifying crash in residential Beverly Hills, a crash the viewer experiences largely through Hughes’ eyes. It’s a crash from which he was never expected to recover; that he does so marks one of the last victories of his will over his obsessive-compulsiveness and his paranoia. His final triumph is implanted with the seeds of tragedy; imagine how much higher he could have soared during the last 30 years of his life if his vision could have outraced his demons.
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