DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese
WRITTEN BY: John Logan
STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kinglsey, Sacha Baron Cohen
RATING: 4.5 stars
Martin Scorsese has never made a 3D film before, and yet, he's done it better than anyone else, including James Cameron. Hugo is one film you have to see in 3D. It is far and away the best use of 3D I've seen. Why? Because it adds to the visual experience rather than act as a gimmick.
Based on the novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, the film is set in 1930s Paris. Orphaned Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives secretly inside the walls of the tower clock of a busy train station. His only connection to his late father (Jude Law) is a broken automaton they were trying to fix together. When Hugo meets a young girl named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the duo begin an “adventure” together. Meanwhile, Hugo must dodge trouble with Isabelle's seemingly grumpy guardian, Georges (Benk Kingsley), and the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who sends orphans to the orphanage. But it's when Hugo fixes the old automaton, and learns what it is capable of doing, that his real adventure begins.
There is a wonderful twist to this tale, and a lot of film reviewers have ruined it, but I'm not going to - just trust me when I say this is a smart family film, made more for adults than very young children. The greatest aspect of Hugo is the way in which all the layers of the film are tied together. It has multiple orphan tales and war stories and the value of time is emphasised on various levels. It's the kind of film that has every detail carefully constructed. That is largely due to the wonderful writing of John Logan, the man behind films like Gladiator, The Aviator and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Scorsese is better known for films like Goodfellas and The Departed, so many were surprised when he took on a family film, but at the heart of Hugo is a reflection on cinema and what we have gained and lost from the art. So really, as a man who fights so passionately for the preservation of film, it actually makes perfect sense that Scorsese would want to take the reins on Hugo. An example of this is how Scorsese pays homage to early cinema including the famous Lumieres' Arrival of a Train at the Station.
The cast is also very good. Butterfield, known for his role in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, is a great young actor who takes on the role of Hugo, an inquisitive boy desperate to belong somewhere. His desperation to cling to his father's work and memory is moving and there are a few powerful scenes in which he tears up. Moretz is also sweet in her role and is building an impressive resume with films like 500 Days of Summer and Kick-Ass. Cohen is fantastic as the villainous station inspector carrying a war wound who also provides most of the laughs, especially with his creepy smile. He provides just the right amount of tasteful comedy to balance the seriousness of the rest of the film. Kingsley is also effective as the grumpy old man with heartbreaking secret.
While Hugo is slightly long and slow to start, it's all so relevant and all the mysteries we are presented with tie in perfectly at the end. Those with a passion for early cinema will especially enjoy it.