Originally Reviewed – 12/30/2011
At the core of the medium, the movie business is pure magic. From the pan of a far off vista to the intimate close up, films have the ability to pull you into a story like few other art forms can. Or at least they used to. These days, market research has replaced imagination, especially in the realm of family films. Movies made for mom, pop and the little ones tend to be noisy affairs, full of 3D spectacle, cartoonish slapstick and annoying rehashes of decade old pop tunes. Luckily for all of us, Hugo, the latest film from director Marin Scorsese, is none of those things. A cinematic mash note to the world of early filmmaking wrapped in the simple tale of a boy, a girl and their clockwork robot, Hugo is not only the best film you will see this year, it’s the best film Scorsese’s made since Goodfellas. In short, it’s an instant classic.
While there are a number of interwoven themes in Hugo, the central story is a relatively simple one. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a young street urchin who spends his days living in the walls of a Parisian train station, tending to the building’s many clocks. Being the son of a renowned clock maker (Jude Law), Hugo has a natural knack for fixing things. One of those objects is an “automaton”, an intricate mechanical man, left to him by his father. However, after an abrupt meeting with the owner of a toy stand (Ben Kingsley) and his literary daughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), Hugo finds himself in a race to fix the broken automaton and discover what secrets, if any, the machine may hold.
The forefront of any Scorsese film is the look and feel and Hugo is one of his most intricate and beautifully shot movies. From the mechanical world Hugo lives in to the bustling train station, Scorsese gives the film a brilliant sheen that embraces the fairytale nature of the story. With the help of cinematographer Robert Richardson, Scorsese’s camera dances and swoops throughout the film, creating an energetic yet patient tone. Hugo also utilizes 3D technology in a way that actually enhances the storytelling instead of detracting, a first for the style. In a way, the film is a mixture of old and new, combining cutting edge technology and decades old film making techniques in way that can only be described as magical.
But what would all this technical wizardry be without compelling actors living in it. Hugo is perfectly cast with the highest marks going to Ben Kingsley as the shopkeeper with a secret and Chloe Moretz as his plucky niece, both of which deserve at least some consideration for Oscar nominations come January. Scorsese also fills the film with colorful side stories in a way that’s more Amelie than Casino. From the station inspector constantly on the lookout for thieving orphans (played wonderfully by Sasha Baron Cohen) to the flower girl he falls for to the lady with the little dog, the world of Hugo feels alive and vibrant. These characters aren’t simple window dressing as they all help amplify the central theme of the film. Add to the mix a coy wink to the movies that helped pioneer the art form along with a number of jaw dropping set pieces and you get an experience that works on every level.
It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Hugo is a film literally everybody will enjoy. Kids will love the adventure, adults will laugh at Isabella’s expanded vocabulary and film geeks will swoon from the turn of the century film references. Using a deceptively simple mélange of styles and cinema, Martin Scorsese does his best remind us that film is still magic, despite what our internal cynics tend to think. Upon leaving my first viewing of this movie, a group of To Cool For The Room hipster types were doing just that. Lamenting the “kiddie nature” of the movie and complaining that IMDB let them down again, I imagine these were the people Scorsese was trying to touch most of all with his film. Hugo is a message to all of us that sometimes the best stories are the ones told simply, with good characters, good writing and great heart. Hugo is all of those things and for this critic, the absolute best movie of the year.
Score – 100%