Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen
Though not your typical Martin Scorsese film, Hugo is a film that could only be made by a person who loves movies as much as Martin Scorsese. It is a film directed by a movie buff for movie buffs and those that appreciate film history. Put simply, this is not a children’s film.
The film starts slowly and builds its world. And what a beautiful world it is; fully realized and all-encompassing. It is a world of clockworks, the dawn of the industrial age, when everything mechanical is beautiful and full of wonder. In this world, between the walls separating the outside from the in, you are in the home of Hugo (Asa Butterfield); where the gears move, pipes steam, and you can see everything through the vents and the clock faces.
Hugo is the story of Hugo’s quest to fix his father’s last project, and in doing so finds himself and a family. When we first meet Hugo, he is living in the old employee quarters of the train station. From his vantage point behind clock faces and vents, he can see and be everywhere. He is caught one afternoon by George, the Toy Merchant (Ben Kingsley), trying to steal a wind-up mouse–not for the toy itself, but the clockworks inside. To avoid being given over to the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo agrees to give the Toy Merchant everything in his pockets, including his father’s notebook. The notebook becomes the catalyst for all that happens next.
The notebook is one of the last remnants from his father (Jude Law) who was killed in a fire. In it are the notes regarding an automaton his father was repairing. But the Toy Merchant also recognizes the automaton and refuses to return the notebook. What follows next is not only an adventure to regain the notebook and repair the automaton, but the story of how two damaged souls were healed.
Also along the way you are treated to the early history of French silent films and privy to the secrets of old-time filmcraft. You will view classic scenes from Buster Keaton movies, The Great Train Robbery, and George Melies films–such as Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon).
The acting is great throughout. Asa Butterfield–great last name–carries the film well. Ben Kingsley is spot-on as the despondent Toy Merchant with a secret past, and Chloe Grace Moretz (Isabelle) holds her own as the Toy Merchant’s god-daughter who befriends Hugo. The remaining supporting cast is equally great and well cast.
The editing of the film for the most part is good, but the film does feel overlong at points. The scenes between Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) as two shop keepers working in the station–though sweet–add nothing to the story. But this is a minor complaint; one that I only thought of after the film had long been over.
Overall this film has charm, and it touched me. You are truly taken to a time and place. This is by far Martin Scorsese’s most beautiful looking film and most likely the most beautiful film of the year.