What a rarity it is that a film feels as unique and accomplished as Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Even after 40 years of feature film experience,
Scorsese still finds ways to amaze. And Hugo dazzles from beginning to end with its incredible heart and charm and the most astonishing
3D cinematography put to film.
Based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo is an orphan living in a Parisian train station in the 1930s.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Hugo lives within the bowels of the station, keeping the many clocks working thanks to the teachings of his father,
a watchmaker killed in a fire, and his drunken Uncle, who takes on Hugo before abandoning him to the station.
The station itself is an incredible piece of art direction filled with massive gears and cogs and brought to life via incredible 3D effects. The
breathtaking opening sequence flies through the locale and introduces us to all of the various workings and characters. Scorsese shot the
film for 3D, and therefore it has a dimensionality and brightness lacking in the woeful 2D conversions that have become so prevalent.
Scorsese also uses the added depth far more effectively than the simple gimmick of people and items popping out of the screen. Instead,
Scorsese uses it to emphasize his foregrounding techniques and the massive scale of the locations. In fact, some of the most spectacular
shots are simple close ups with dust floating out of reach in the background and faces showing a incredible natural depth in the facial
And although it’s Hugo’s visuals that initially impress, it’s the film’s heart that leaves a lasting impression.
Hugo’s search for a message he believes his late father left for him inside of a broken automaton (A mechanical man designed to write) is
touching and the message itself takes the film in a completely unexpected dramatic direction.
Adapted by John Logan, Hugo is a brilliantly written film with a great balance of humor, sadness and redemption. Indeed, Hugo sets itself
far apart from most films in the fantasy adventure genre. There are no true villains, the film is deliberately paced, and don’t expect much in
the way of action. There are even a few segments devoted to film history. I won’t spoil how they tie into the film.
It’s perhaps in these moments that Scorsese and co. misstep just a bit. It feels a bit self-indulgent and there are a few parts that feel a bit
too close to Scorsese the documentarian to really fit into a children’s fantasy film. Nevertheless, they are beautifully directed and any true
fan of film will love how much this film loves film.
Hugo has the feel of a very personal film. Perhaps it’s due to the story’s love of film or perhaps it’s the striking themes that range from the
uncertainty and innocence of Hugo and his friend Isabelle or the utter sadness of Ben Kingsley’s character’s past. But it’s unmistakable,
the filmmakers were truly inspired and it oozes from every frame of this movie.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Asa Butterfield is excellent as Hugo and Chloe Grace Moretz is even better as the adorably
bookish Isabelle. Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious as the station’s inspector and Ben Kingsley’s mysterious toy shop owner all but steals the
show in the final act when the dramatic power of the story reaches its climax.
The friendship between Hugo and Isabelle is very sweet and both of these actors are extremely likeable.
Hugo is an excellent film in just about every respect and a completely unexpected endeavor from Scorsese, whose films have tended to be
technically brilliant but rarely emotionally poignant. While it’s certainly debatable whether it’s his best film, Hugo is Scorsese’s most
endearing. It’s a wonderful and intelligent film that exemplifies (both literally and figuratively) why we love going to the movies.
Hugo asserts that filmmaking is indistinguishable from magic. And in the hands of a truly inspired and talented group of artists such as
Scorsese, Logan and the entire production crew, it truly is.
* * * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa
Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Music by: Howard Shore
Released: November 23, 2011; 127 Minutes