Sunday, November 27, 2011
HUGO: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz (126 min.)
Like most people, I found it strange that Martin Scorsese would be directing a “children’s” film when the announcement was made last year. But upon seeing Hugo I realized two things: 1) Martin Scorsese is a living legend, arguably the best American director of all time; he can direct any genre he would like, and 2) Hugo is anything but your typical children’s film. This feels like a picture Scorsese has wanted to make his entire career, a love letter from Scorsese to the birthplace of movies, and a spotlight on his lifelong crusade for film preservation. But Hugo also happens to be a warm and emotionally engaging picture about a young boy who – if I had to guess – is not much different than the young Martin Scorsese himself.
Hugo is played by Asa Butterfield, a young boy with soulful, sky-blue eyes. Hugo is an orphaned child who lives within the walls of a Paris train station, always keeping the many clocks wound, nabbing food from the cafés when he can, and avoiding the clutches of the station inspector, played with wonderful energy by Sacha Baron Cohen. This Paris train station functions like a small village inside the romantic French city. Within the station is a small toy shop run by a sad old man named Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) and his granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). Hugo is caught stealing small toys for their parts and is forced to work with Georges and Isabelle. He is stealing the parts from these toys, intricate little gears and cogs, to try and restore an automaton his father left behind. The automaton is a small human-shaped device that Hugo believes holds a message from his late father (played by Jude Law, seen in flashbacks).
Certain elements are set in place for Hugo to become a family adventure film, but those expecting mishaps and comic relief, overt special-effects spectacles and talking animals, will be disappointed. Hugo goes inward when Hollywood would want to make any lesser filmmaker project outward. But this becomes a film of Scorsese’s own heart. Young Hugo, always observing these trains coming in and out of the station, never has the means to go on one his own; I couldn’t help but think of an asthmatic young Scorsese watching his New York streets from an apartment window. And Hugo has a great love for the movies. He has seen several because, as he claims, they are “like dreams coming to life in the daytime.” These sound like the words of a young Marty who fell in love with the silver screen while his peers were out playing in the streets.
Thus, Hugo becomes a story about the birth of films and filmmakers as we discover certain secrets and other truths about Méliès and his early career. We are transported back to the turn of the century, when audiences ducked in fear of a train coming towards them on a screen and thought a rocket truly did hit the eye of the man in the moon. While we get to see these wonderful early scenes of movie sets and the way films were created before the advent of sound, we also begin to connect pieces of the puzzle in the Paris train station involving the automaton and its rightful place. There is also a subplot involving the station inspector and a florist that would feel wrong in any other film if another director was in charge; here it fits.
Hugo is an engaging film, and a heartwarming story that never feels manipulative. There will not be a more beautifully-composed picture all year; the screen is rich in colors and saturated in beautiful blues and browns. Sometimes, you can feel the passion of a filmmaker in the frames of a story; Hugo thrives on the energy and the emotional attachment of its director. People may ask why Scorsese would direct Hugo; my answer would be he is the only one who could have done it.