November 30, 2011
Hugo is a deceptively simple story of an orphan living in a train station in 1930's Paris. It is the sort of story that in lesser hands could become an ever further simplified tale that wouldn't carry half the charm, wit, and magic that this movie does. Director Martin Scorsese has done something special here. It is a movie unlike anything else he has made in his career (not to mention the biggest budget), it is a movie that may not be on the same level as his best work, but at the same time it feels like a work that is very close to his heart, perhaps even a culmination of many different aspects of his film passion.
You see, Hugo is more than a movie about an orphan, it is about the dawn of film, or special effects, the fear of being forgotten, the importance preserving vision and memory. This is a movie that wraps you up in its arms and tells you about the magic of movies and storytelling, of family and adventure.
Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls and crawlspaces of a train station. He keeps all of the clocks wound and running. So long as he isn't seen by the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), that is. Following the untimely death of his father (Jude Law), he is taken in by his drunk uncle (Ray Winstone) who teaches him about the clocks. Soon enough, his uncle has disappeared and he is once again alone.
The thing that keeps the lonely boy going is the broken automaton that his father was working on with him. He has kept up the work by pilfering parts from a clockwork toy shop run by a cranky old man named George (Ben Kingsley). One day he is caught and the adventure really starts. He meets Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) who is in the care of George and his wife. She helps Hugo on his way.
What helps make this movie so special is the way it shifts gears between the first and second half. At first I thought it was a bit jarring, but the more I think about it the transition is rather elegant. You see, early on we learn about how Hugo's father would take him to the movies and how much the cinema meant to them, then we learn about the filmmaker character and his connection to the automaton and the collective link to Hugo and his father. Wow, that is a clumsy sentence, isn't it? In any case, it builds up the magic of cinema and the way it can connect people. Hugo learns more about the movies and is drawn closer to his father. It is nicely subtle and doesn't discuss it explicitly.
This is a wonderfully executed film that does not have a cynical bone in its body. It is a movie full of hope and wonder. It is not a fast paced film, it is one that takes its time, slowly allowing it to work its magic on you, letting you take in the detail and care that has gone into designing it. At the same time, it never lets itself slip into pretension or lose that fun feeling. There are some fun chases an funny comedy involving the inspector keeping the tone light.
I am not sure what else to say about this movie. It is not what I expected, although I am not sure if that is for better or for worse. Considering how much I like this movie, I am not sure that matters all that much. It is a movie that has heart and is made by someone who clearly understands the technology. The 3D is quite good, adding depth and texture, plus the opening shot is pretty spectacular.
What it comes down to is that this is a really go movie made by a master of the medium. It is a project that brings a number of different ideas together. This includes nostalgia, a love for a bygone era and the dawn of cinema. Just go and see it.
Posted by Christopher Beaumont at 11/30/2011 10:27:00 PM
Chris has been an avid movie watcher for decades, getting into the writing game in 2004. Since that time he has contributed to a number online publications as well as running CriticalOutcast.com. In addition to movies, Chris is a big fan of music, particularly metal, and will never give up hope on his beloved Mets.