|January 8, 2012||Posted by Liam Morgan under entertainment, reviews|
Film Information: 2nd December 2011, Certificate U
Cast: Asa Butterfield; Chloe Grace Moretz; Ray Winstone; Ben Kingsley; Jude Law; Richard Griffiths; Sacha Baron Cohen; Christopher Lee; Emily Mortimer; Frances de la Tour
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriters: John Logan; based on the novel by Brian Selznick
Running Time: 126 minutes
Hugo is an orphan living in the walls of a Parisian train station in the 1930s. He fixes the station clocks and other gadgets, carrying on his father’s trade. The only thing that he has left that connects him to his late father is an automaton that doesn’t work; Hugo must find its heart-shaped key. On his adventures, he meets with a vindictive station inspector, a grumpy old shopkeeper, a mysterious librarian and an adventure-seeking, book-loving girl of his own age. Hugo finds that they have a surprising connection to his father and the automaton, and as he discovers it the old man starts remembering his past and his significance to the world of film-making.
Hugo is magical. There is no other word for it. It is a piece of pure escapism; a real cinema-going sanctuary that will surely be of universal appeal. In his first foray into the family film genre, legendary director Martin Scorsese breaks from his usually violence-filled genre with this spellbinding new project, trading the gangland streets of New York for the romanticised, quaintly archaic setting of a 1930s Paris railway station. The film tells the story of orphan Hugo who lives within the walls of the station, and whose life ambition is to finish his late father’s automaton by finding the remaining pieces as well as a mysterious heart shaped key, needed for the robot to come to life. Along the way he must avoid the cruel station inspector and also seek the help of a young girl – Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). The film strays on the right side of cliché, at once instantly familiar and refreshing in terms of the cinephilic narrative and also the exaggerated caricatures that Scorsese chooses to pepper the story with.
The two main child actors have to carry the film for the story to work, and they execute it with tremendous success. Asa Butterfield takes the leading role and gives an astonishing performance for someone of his age, full of genuine emotion and the impulsiveness that the role demands. To be fair, Scorsese could have just pointed the camera at Butterfield’s eyes for the duration of the film and the audience would be captivated – there’s a certain mesmeric quality to them which is intimate and honest, and they guarantee his future film career all on their own. Chloe Grace Moretz still seems to be riding the wave of praise she created with her role in 2010’s Kick-Ass, and she has a deserved reputation as one of the finest child actors around. In Hugo she plays the titular character’s bookish and sheltered friend, desperate for an adventure, and Moretz’s performance manages to shine through even amongst established members of the cast.
The supporting cast serve as caricatures for side-plot romances, from an elderly man’s pursuit of an old flame (featuring Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour) to a bumbling station inspector’s hopeful relationship with the station florist (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Emily Mortimer). If these sub-plots weren’t enough, there is also room for Ray Winstone as Hugo’s darkly Dickensian guardian (very timely as it turns out) and Jude Law as his comparatively angelic father.
Hugo may be a departure from Scorsese’s typical audience and subject matter, but it is certainly not a departure from the quality of his previous work: the film succeeds from both an entertainment perspective and as a piece of cinematic artistry. It celebrates the medium of cinema itself, particularly its capacity to “capture our dreams” – how fitting then that Scorsese’s latest picture has the power to whisk us away on an adventure for the imagination that simultaneously explores the beginning of film itself. Ben Kingsley plays George Melies, the grandfather of cinema, and this gives Scorsese the excuse to bring his old silent films to a modern day audience, using samples of the original films in several montages during Hugo’s second half. If the director’s intention was to bring the magic of early cinema to a younger audience, then it is fair to say he has resoundingly succeeded, as the montages and Melies’ storyline manage to capture those idealistic first intentions and formation of the art form in a way which is enchanting for children and adults alike.
Upon examination, Hugo fits Scorsese’s oeuvre perfectly, and he even manages to sneak in some signature shots from his variegated back catalogue – the opening track through the railway station in particular echoes the famous ‘Copacabana’ shot in Goodfellas (1990). The story is told gregariously and with flair, full of ambitious chase sequences and hypnotising focuses on the intricacies of clockwork mechanisms.
The story itself brings the different cogs of narratives together in an exciting and visceral fashion to create a clockwork whole, a narrative that as an audience member seems to fly by as the idealistic characters and plot fit pleasingly into one other; cogs meshing together seamlessly, key snapping into perfect place.