Review: Hugo

Hugo - Asa Butterfiled and Chloe Grace Moretz

Martin Scorsese’s first foray into 3D and family friendly fare produces breathtaking results, reminding us of why we all love cinema so much.

Hugo (2011)

Hugo poster - Australia

Director: Martin Scorsese

Runtime: 126 minutes

Starring: Asa ButterfieldChloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen

Distributor: Paramount


Rating: Certified Bitstastic (?)

More info

He may be most associated with his gritty crime dramas, from Mean Streets to Goodfellas, but Martin Scorsese has consistently proven that he is capable of turning on a dime without any notice. He followed Taxi Driver with the musical New York, New York, and Goodfellas and Cape Fear with costume drama The Age of Innocence. Now, by way of a few TV episodes and documentaries, the master is following the occasionally confused Shutter Island with an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s hybrid young adult book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

In the years between the two great European wars, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a lonely young boy who lives by himself in the machinations behind a Parisian train station’s clockworks. Having learned a love of tinkering from his late father (Jude Law), he continues to ensure all the clocks are working. Avoiding the station’s inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who packs the kids he catches off to orphanages, he steals food and whatever other parts he needs. His only companion is a broken Automaton, a kind of robotic boy, which Hugo is desperate to repair. When toy shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley) catches him in the act of theft, and takes Hugo’s treasured notebook, Hugo appeals to Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the two start off on an adventure.

From the opening moments of this film, there’s a clear departure for Mr. Scorsese, although it is in these moments that he will test your patience over just how far you are willing to go with him. Amplifying the book’s somewhat marginal role of the station inspector, the film borders on an antiquated farce, although this might be partly the fault of Baron Cohen. Only two shades away from his Sweeney Todd character, unsurprising given both films were penned by John Logan, he stomps around the set with a braced leg, chewing the lovely scenery that Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson have constructed. Indeed, the director seems so enamoured with the new toys of 3D and digital tracking shots that he appears to have forgotten the audience for a moment – but only a moment. As the story shifts gears, and revelations are made, we quite literally enter a whole new film as seamlessly as moving from one room to the next.

Hugo - Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz

Discussing Hugo further becomes difficult, as revealing the direction of the film would also ruin the magic of discovery. For this is essentially what the film is about: discovery of things past, preserving and appreciating historical artefacts for future generations and of course, finding one’s own place in the process. In this second half of the film, the story becomes a wondrous reminder of why we love the cinema. Scorsese turns what could be a humdrum history lesson in film, something that we know he can talk about for hours, into a fascinating portal of discover. Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and the seminal Arrival of a Train at a Station by Lumière brothers pepper the film and, via Hugo and Isabelle, Scorsese allows us to feel the same wide-eyed fascination that the first cinema audiences must have experienced.

Filled not only with countless references to cinema, but a who’s who of British casting including Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, Helen McCrory and a wonderful spot from Christopher Lee as a bookseller, Scorsese’s world is a rich and vibrant one. Standing apart stylistically from Scorsese’s previous films, as well as Selznick’s source material, the language of film enters an intertextual dialogue with other films, books and the audience itself. With his discovery of 3D, Scorsese ensures the twelve year-old in him stays, and that his films will be continued to be discovered for generations to come.

Hugo is a gorgeously shot tale that slowly pulls you in to deliver its love letter to cinema. With every repeat viewing or reflection, and there will be, Scorsese’s latest masterpiece will grow a little more on you.

Hugo is released in Australia on 12 January 2012 from Paramount.