There is a thin line between characterisation and caricaturising. Some technical geniuses can pull it off – some cannot. I started my obsession with Katharine Hepburn somewhere in 2004 and though years have passes, although I now realise that much of the film was heavily fictionalised I still regard this performance as a magnum opus of sort. I remain enthralled by it each time I see and though I wouldn’t quite call Cate a genius (Kate is) she comes dangerously close here.
#6 Cate Blanchett in The Aviator (2004)
Even though persons always cite Scorsese as being filled with testosterone he has extracted some brilliant performances from women. A career defining turn from Burstyn, a life changing performance from Stone, a prodigious turn from Foster, a brilliant performance with a nondescript role from Farmiga and Cate Blanchett’s excellent take on Katharine Hepburn. I have to address the obvious before I look at Cate. She's not Katharine Hepburn, because of course Kate’s uniqueness is unparalleled but Cate Blanchett has always been an actor dedicated to transformation. Sometimes I feel that she plays her characters from the inside out. We define Sheba by her beauty, Elizabeth by her strident voice, and Galadriel by her ethereal charm and Cate works from the outside to create the Kate within. How do you play the private life of someone who never let us into her personal life? It’s the difficulty that Cate is given, and it’s why I find the performance so brilliant.
Cate/Kate is a burst of fresh air to The Aviator. She is unlike the women of the time and she lends a sense of joie de vivre to the dourness of Hughes. The entire first meeting between the two is one giant Oscar scene and even though Howard speaks it’s really just Cate’s show, with quotable line after quotable line. I do love these moments, but they’re not the reason this performance is so worthy of praise. Cate triumphs in the quieter moments when the task gets more difficult – playing Kate like a woman and not like a star. Of course, she gets the steely charm down as she tells the waiter at the Coconut Grove who calls her Mrs. Hepburn “It’s Miss” and the glint in her eyes as Howard tells her of his excursions. But I like, for example, when Jude comes to the table and in a throwaway moment critics her hands to which Cate (surreptitiously) looks at her hands. I love that moment, it’s the self conscious way that many don’t remember Kate for, but was still there. Or the glee in her eyes as she flies Howard’s plane.
Kate Beckinsale provides the sultriness of The Aviator while Cate must provide the emotional core, in some ways she must represent the absent mother of Hughes. For example, when he breaks his first flying record the joy on her face as she vicariously enjoys his success. Her subsequent monologue could get heavy handed by Cate plays it just right. And though the line is a bit too on the nose I love her reading of it, “You taught me to fly Howard. I’ll take the wheel.” The sincerity of it is profound and it’s part of the brilliance of Cate. She is carving a new character but one that has it’s root in the real Kate of course. Even she would admit that she wasn’t always the most gracious person and though Cate doesn’t exploit this, she does lend touches of the shrewish Kate. I admire Leo’s Howard but it’s undeniable that whenever Cate is onscreen no other actor has a chance. Even her goodbye from Hughes which exists as a moment for DiCaprio is still hers as Scorsese wisely cuts to her reactions you realise that even when she’s not the “centre” of attentions Cate never loses character. That final double take as she leaves the room is striking, though I wish she’d never have left the film…even if it's still a favourite of mine...
Cate’s been accused of theatrics since, but it’s my favourite Supporting Performance of the Decade. What are your thoughts on Cate/Kate? – …and which Supporting turn tops your decade list?