It doesn’t take much to know how much director Martin Scorsese appreciates the world of cinema. From Taxi Driver and Raging Bull to Goodfellas and his recent Oscar winner The Departed, Scorsese has always had quite the vision of the possibilities of telling a compelling story through the medium of film. What Scorsese isn’t exactly known for, as those four films alone illustrate, is directing a more “family-oriented” film. Based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, Scorsese brings to the big screen Hugo—a moving fantasy drama that ultimately shows Scorsese’s love of the magic and possibilities of movies.
Hugo stars young Asa Butterfield (from the film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) in the title role. Hugo is a young orphaned boy left in charge of running the clocks at a Parisian train station in the 1930s. Through flashbacks, we see Hugo’s interactions with his father (played by Jude Law) and we learn that Hugo’s father was determined to fix a mysterious mechanical man he found in a museum. Tragically, though, his father died in a fire and Hugo wound up led by his drunkard uncle (played by Ray Winstone) to living in a train station and left to secretly take charge of the station’s clocks. Here, Hugo ends up having to dodge the station’s limping inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) from catching him and sending him away to an orphanage.
In the train station, Hugo eventually meets a bitter toy-shop keeper named Georges (played by Ben Kingsley) and his goddaughter Isabelle (played by Chloë Grace Moretz). As it turns out, destiny would bring Hugo and Georges to meet as Isabelle would end up holding the key (literally) to unlocking the truth of what Hugo’s father meant to tell his son through the power and mystery of the mechanical man.
Don’t let my above plot synopsis lead you to believe that Hugo is just another atypical children’s movie. In reality, it’s far from it. In fact, although it could easily be categorized as a “family film,” some children might not fully comprehend or appreciate the themes Scorsese means to illustrate in his film. One of the major themes in Hugo is the very power of the world of cinema and the origins of the motion picture. This theme could very easily go over the heads of younger audiences, but appreciators of film will find it fascinating, inspiring and incredibly moving.
Scorsese gives his audience a bit of a history lesson of the power of film. Georges, it would be uncovered, was once a visionary filmmaker. He was in awe of the Lumiere brothers’ groundbreaking 1897 film “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” and he sought to create a world for audiences to escape to through the medium of cinema. And he did, but he painfully put that world behind him and all seemed lost with his films and the vision he had contained in them—until Hugo came along. What was once lost can be found once again.
The cinematography and visuals Scorsese utilizes in Hugo are awe-inspiring. He beautifully recreates a 1930’s Paris seemingly to a tee. It could easily been assumed that Hugo is quite possibly Scorsese’s most personal film. The love of cinema and the preservation of it obviously are rooted deep in his heart and soul as a filmmaker and he means to illustrate this in Hugo. The film is driven also by moving performances by the actors, young and old—particularly young Butterfield and possible supporter-actor-Oscar-nominee-bound Kingsley, who beautifully presents to us a forlorn man who had a vision and love for film and the pain he inhibits from having lost that passion.
Hugo shouldn’t be dismissed as simply a family film. It plays to the hearts of those who love cinema, spearheaded by a director who knows a thing or two about making a memorable motion picture. Hugo is a memorable, moving film and it’s one of the best films of the year.
4 ½ out of 5 stars