Howard Hughes was a loon- an unlikely hero for a blockbuster. His virtue- perhaps his only virtue- was courage. He built huge airplanes, made crap movies and thought everyone was for sale. He treated women like dirt. There was always something a bit skew-whiff about him and he ended up living in a private hell, wasted by phobias, surrounded by yes-men- but too rich and powerful to be certified.
The movie doesn't take us into that final decline and degradation. It shows him fighting the madness and, in scenes that provide the story with an emotional heart, coming back from the brink to battle Alan Alda's corrupt senator and win because he's truthful and cuts through the crap and, in the last analysis, cares for something other than money. Hooray for Howard! Whether things were actually as simple as this I've no idea. But this is how it goes in any big Hollywood movie- one with big bucks to earn- the guy at the heart of it has to be- at some level or other- a winner. And if the facts of the case suggest otherwise they need to be manipulated and monkeyed around with until it's assured that the audience will leave the cinema thinking, he may have been a sonofabitch but he sure did stick it to those bastards!
Travis Bickle isn't a winner, nor is Jake la Motta, nor is Henry Hill. At best they're survivors. When Martin Scorsese was young and driven he used to make movies about guys like these. Now that he's dealt with his issues and is rich and mellow he makes movies because he can. The Aviator is a mainstream Hollywood bio-pic. It softens the jagged edges. Hughes was bisexual, for instance, and that's out the window. Scorsese's still a very good film-maker- his films look amazing and are filled with excellent performances- but they're no longer essential viewing.
Di Caprio is good but too baby-faced to play grown men. Cate Blanchett is wonderful. So is Alan Alda. The CGI is dreadful; I've seen better on Doctor Who.