- Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz star in Martin Scorsese's love letter to the magic of movies. Submitted photo.
Martin Scorsese's Hugo (click for showtimes) is a Dickensian-lite tale of an orphan lad (Asa Butterfield) living in a 1930s Paris train station and his relationships with a disapproving toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) and his young granddaughter (Chloe Grace Moretz). The production is also a love letter to the magic of movies, particularly the early silent films.
This is a film to see in theaters - those who wait for video will miss the best use of 3D since Avatar. Scorsese employs the process brilliantly, composing his scenes so the 3D enhances the story without falling into gimmickry. I've seen so many films with bad 3D that, if I mention the process at all, it's usually to urge readers to seek out a 2D version of the movie. Rest assured, this time the 3D is well-worth the extra fee.
Hugo, based on Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, accompanies the boy on his secret routine in the train station. Following the death of his adoring father (Jude Law), Hugo is left in the care of his vile uncle (Ray Winstone), whose job is to tend to the elaborate clocks at the station. When the uncle disappears, Hugo quietly takes over, taking care of the clocks and stealing food to get by and various items to try to repair a mechanical man left to him by his father.
The boy avoids the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), but when the station's toy shop owner catches him stealing and confiscates the notebook of Hugo's father, it appears the orphan's world is about to collapse on him. Unless the old man's granddaughter, who is itching to have an adventure, can help Hugo get the notebook back. In addition to all of this there is another plot line, dealing with silent films and faded glory.
Hugo is filled with gorgeous images. Scorsese crafts his sets so meticulously that I was reminded of the disarming picture-book style of Wes Anderson's Rushmore. Scorsese emphasizes the mechanics of objects - we see so many gears and other moving parts - to give the film the appearance of enhanced reality, but if you look closely (check the size of the Eiffel Tower in various scenes) you can see the filmmaker altering reality to reflect the moods and perspectives of the story.
Hugo is an exceptional motion picture and I heartily recommend it to you. That said, I must note that Scorsese, in his quest to avoid sentimentality, may have been too emotionally conservative at times. There were moments where I knew I was supposed to tear up, but it didn't happen. And then there's the station inspector. Sasha Baron Cohen plays him big and slapsticky, but the tone of the character is more cartoonish than the world surrounding him. Even more awkward is the matter of his leg, which was injured in the war and is supported by a metal brace. More than one chase scene that appears to be intended as comical in addition to being exciting ends with the inspector's brace locking up and preventing him from going on. You see the sadness on his face and any hint of humor disappears.
Hugo has moments that don't work, but the vast majority of it does - gloriously, magically. I've avoided specifics about the "love letter to the magic of movies" aspect of the film. Better that you discover that magic on your own.