Books, stories and documentaries about Howard Hughes are fascinating, but the two big films about him — Martin Scorsese‘s The Aviator (’04) and Warren Beatty‘s Rules Don’t Apply (’16) — left me (and, I’m presuming, millions of others) disengaged and dispirited. Especially in the case of The Aviator, which may be Scorsese’s least enjoyable film, Cate Blanchett‘s Katharine Hepburn performance aside.
I just re-watched the Beverly Hills plane crash sequence, and I don’t believe a frame of it — every shot is pushed and amplified and CG’ed to a fare-thee-well — visual intensity for its own sake. And for me, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s performance was a whiff — emotionally on-target but otherwise about “acting.” I know Hughes spoke with a flat Midwestern accent and was never mistaken by anyone for an urban sophisticate, but DiCaprio over-channelled the Clem Kadiddlehopper. (His Hughes and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood‘s Rick Dalton are peas in a pod.)
Jason Robards‘ cameo-level performance in Melvin and Howard was the only Hughes I ever liked, and that was 40 years ago.
The bottom line is that The Aviator and Rules Don’t Apply have killed the Hughes legend, certainly among 21st Century movie audiences.
Incidentally: Hughes was born in December 1905. He was 41 when he testified before Congress in 1947 [after the jump]. He looked 51 if a day. By today’s standards he could be 55 or even 60.