First, a bias confession: I love Martin Scorsese and consider him to be one of the greatest directors of all time. I've not, however, always been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio - I'm one of the few people who hated his big boat movie - but he's excellent here.
Interesting choices were made, primarily in showing the development of Hughes' OCD and mental disability as a lifelong struggle. In truth, I believe that there's still some controversy over whether Hughes' eccentricities were innate from childhood, or the result of brain damage from his many accidents (depicted brilliantly here).
If we want to wax symbolic here, and try to find greater meaning where it may not exist, we could call The Aviator the story of America in the twentieth century. Great promise and great innovation brought on by determined, but troubled, genius, and brought down by darker side of that same genius. It's most prominent features were the birth of mass entertainment, advances in technology, and superiority in war, all tied together through a love of spectacle that in turn threatens our own desire for privacy and quietude. Okay, enough of that bullshit.
As to the choice to end the picture with some twenty years of Hughes' life story left untold, I have to accept that. While the last chapters of the story would have been interesting, they've already been covered in lurid detail, and they add nothing to the story of Hughes' breakthroughs in the field of aviation.
Also interesting; the use of color and tinting - sometimes subtle, sometimes almost disturbing, but always helping us get into the mind of Howard Hughes and elicit our sympathy for this very difficult man. Yes, this film shows all of Hughes' blemishes that earned him a reputation as a tyrant and an emotionless beast, but it managed to do so in a loving way that demonstrated the full range of who he was.
Some Howard Hughes rentals for your further enjoyment:
- The Carpetbaggers (1964) - A not-so-nice depiction of Hughes as an evil tyrant. Based on the Harold Robbins novel, this is a fun soap opera about a "fictional" industrialist millionaire who directs movies, builds airplanes, and destroys the lives of beautiful starlets. Not to be taken as history, but just to provide a balance to The Aviator.
- Melvin and Howard (1980) - The true (?) story of Melvin Dumar, who once picked up a dazed hitchhiker claiming to be Howard Hughes in the Nevada desert and helped him out. On Hughes' death, one of the many wills that were found named Melvin as beneficiary for his kindness, although the Hughes estate made certain he would never collect. A great American story, and a great early film from Jonathan Demme, starring Paul Le Mat as Melvin and Jason Robards as Howard.
- The Outlaw (1943) - Hughes' own classic western for which he turned his Cal Tech taught engineering skills to designing the push-up bra for star Jane Russell. As Leonardo DiCaprio (as Hughes) says in The Aviator, "Who doesn't like tits?"