Hugo is an atypical Martin Scorsese movie; it contains none of the building blocks that have made Scorsese one of the best directors of the last 35 years. It has none of the stylised violence, amoral characters and ethnic gangsters that superficially define Scorsese most successful films (casino, Goodfellas, the departed). It is wholly a kid’s movie that would be usually given to more family friendly directors like Steven Spielberg. However, once the movie begins it becomes clear to see why Scorsese decided to move in to a genre of film making that he is so unfamiliar with.
Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo cabaret, the orphan who lives in and maintains the Paris central stations clocks. His life at the beginning of the film is as mechanistic as the clocks he secretly fixes; he has to steal to survive and is constantly pursued by the films comic relief, a snooty and slapstick station inspector portrayed by Sascha Baron Cohen. His life however is irrevocably changed when he gets caught stealing from a mysterious toy shop owner and this kicks off a plot of adventure, existential crises and most importantly an impassioned look at the early history of cinema.
Scorsese, in his attempt to make a movie that his 12 year old daughter could watch, makes his only real misstep when dealing with the comedic moments in the film. He seems to be operating a comedy by numbers system which results in segments of the film, though constructed well and executed with precision still leave the viewer basically unamused because the punch lines are so obvious from the set up. Apart from that, Scorsese’s talent permeates through the entire movie whether from the imaginative and diverse universe he creates around the train station to the effective use of the most controversial new technology in modern cinema, 3D.
Scorsese, unlike say woody Allen who still writes all of his movies on a typewriter, is a man who moves with the times. He continues to be as great a film buff as he is film director so when the 3d battle lines were drawn, Scorsese sat firmly on the side of 3d stating it “adds depth to the narrative” and it must be said that the 3d in Hugo is rather spectacular, but most importantly not distracting. The long shots of Hugo running through the clock works and the scenes in which the automaton come to life are made much more vivid with the use of 3d, the energies and emotions of the characters are truly enhanced by them being in 3 dimensions.
The films great strength is that its two main characters are so fully realised. They are both undergoing similar existential crises that make the movie complete is task as being family friendly as any young child can understand the feeling Hugo has in trying to find where he fits in the world and any adult can relate to Ben Kinsley’s Papa George as he perfectly portrays a man who as the world forgot about him, he forgot who he was. The interaction between these two characters and that of their families give the film an emotional anchoring that makes it a joy to watch, even though the film takes large sojourns in to film history you still care because the history is so intricately involved with the lives of the main characters. Scorsese has managed to make both a personal story of triumph and a grand statement on how extraordinary early cinema was.
The movies charm is found in the clear love and dedication that Scorsese has to the subject matter of early cinema. The scenes with the film historian Rene Tabard (excellently portrayed by Michael Stahlbarg) are historically engaging, copiously fun and incredibly thought provoking about the craft of cinema. The story of a young ill and bed ridden Scorsese devouring films because he couldn’t play outside is well known. With this movie i believe Scorsese is aiming to introduce a subject to those who do not know the glory of early cinema. He totally succeeds with Hugo in producing a wonderful movie that only cements Scorsese as the one of the greatest and now most diverse filmmaker currently working today.
Rating: 5 stars