Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen
Running Time: 2 hours and 7 mins
Release Date: November 23, 2011
PLOT: A historical fiction, set in 1930s Paris, about a young orphan boy (Butterfield) who lives in the walls of a train station. He believes that if he can fix an automaton, left behind from his father, his life will make sense.
WHO’S IT FOR? If your child has a short attention span, this might be a tough one to sit through. So, you’ve been warned. For everyone else, it’s a 3D must-see family adventure film.
EXPECTATIONS: I worship at the Scorsese-alter. I was curious, not nervous, about what he could do with a family film. In an interview he said something about his 11-year-old wanting a 3D movie. That motivation made me hope he knew what he was doing.
Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret: Freddie Highmore and Haley Joel Osmont, I would like you to meet Asa Butterfield. Now, after Hugo, he is in your class of “kids who gave an amazing performance, especially considering their age and the scope of the film.” Hugo lives in the walls of the train station and winds the clocks. Careful, because this will have some kids thinking being an orphan and making it on your own is full of wonderful adventures. Once we understand Hugo’s motivation, his dreams of finding a lost message from his father, we can’t help but be hooked. The story gives us enough details that we can believe in this little boy genius. Butterfield gives us such warmth, passion and tears that he is immediately someone to keep an eye on going forward. But keep in mind, no matter who he turns out to be, Butterfield is amazing in Hugo.
Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle: Moretz is now on par with Dakota Fanning’s early work, though her accent could use just a little help. Isabelle has the perfect motivation; she wants an adventure. That is it. All of her decisions are made on the kindness of her heart, and the hope of something exciting happening. There is nothing but sweetness in the friendship between Isabelle and Hugo. Actually, that’s not true, there is magic as well, but we’ll get to that later.
Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès: What a mean old man. I mean, he’s really mean. That’s our introduction to Georges, and I loved it. He doesn’t have any tolerance for Hugo the thief (yes, the kid occasionally swipes some food and tools). Yet we know, from the instance Georges speaks, we know there is something more. The “more” is pure magic, but we’ll get to that later. Kingsley has some great monologues explaining Georges’ full story.
Sacha Baron Cohen as Station Inspector: Cohen is the comic relief. Now, now … settle down. He never gets near Borat-mode. He is perfectly, foolishly, charming for a villain. The Station Inspector dislikes the orphans who come roaming through the train station. He takes his job very seriously, with his wonderful dog. There are two more additions to this villain, and that’s his crush on Lisette and his squeaky leg brace. These things make us root for his “evil” guy even more than just the fact that he’s hilarious. This role made me believe Cohen could have survived as a performer in any area. I can’t wait for more.
Rest of Cast: Hugo is packed with wonderful side characters. Even the truly small parts from Ray Winstone, Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths and Emily Mortimer feel like fantastic vignettes in an already great movie. Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse reminds everyone that books are important. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) gets more work as Rene Tabard. Rene reveres the early days of film, which serve a very important part in this film. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon. We even have Jude Law, who we meet in a well-placed flashback.
TALKING: The themes are believing in yourself, trying to find your place in the world, and having a family/home. They are simple to identify with and beautifully explored in this film. Hugo’s main motivation is to fix machines, because broken machines make him sad. It’s that concept of having a purpose that anyone can identify with. Cohen is hilarious, and you’ll have to pay close attention because of all the little lines he has, like about cow utters. We also get perfectly realized lines about early films, about how it is like “seeing [your] dreams in the middle of the day.”
SIGHTS: Paris, the old films, and the 3D are perfect. Seriously, perfect. The depth used, the angles captured, the costumes and the colors that spring to life make Hugo the most beautiful film of 2011. The train station, with all the nooks and crannies, steam, stores and clocks are just so, so … sigh. I’m happy. What more can I say? I love looking at this film.
SOUNDS: The musical score is beautiful and Hugo inserts some extra music into the film with having a jazz band play in a café. Even better than all of the music are the sounds of the train station brought to life. The opening sequence is almost void of dialogue but there are plenty of sounds to bring you in.
BEST SCENE: It is truly hard to pick one. That opening sequence is really strong and puts the beauty of the train station front and center. I’ll go with that.
ENDING: It is a family movie. Even though something to the extent of, “Happy endings only happen in the movies,” is said, this is a movie so …
QUESTIONS: Did you feel that Georges Méliès fully explained why he fell out of favor? Scorsese needs to do a horror film, right? Shutter Island was close, but the 3D in this film made me realize that Scorsese would nail a 3D horror like no one ever has.
REWATCHABILITY: I am going to see this again. For the first time ever, I might see a 3D film twice in the theater.
Magic. Pure magic. The world is filled with it. I actually find myself wondering if I’ll lie to my future children, trying to explain that Santa isn’t real, even though the “idea” of Santa is a wonderful thing. Why am I talking about St. Nick instead of Hugo?
Hugo is filled with magic even if everything can be explained.
This film is like a marriage of Avatar and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but in that marriage, Scorsese was able to perfect what James Cameron and Steven Spielberg were not. This is a wonderful blend of a sweet story about a child searching for his place, with such gorgeous visuals. The acting, the set design and the 3D take me away.
Scorsese loves movies and gets to play with that in Hugo. If you don’t know the story of Georges Méliès, good. Keep it that way. This historical fiction breathes life into Scorsese’s passion, and as a film critic, mine as well.
If this film would have immediately started right after it finished, I would have happily sat through a second time. It wouldn’t have been magic that the film restarted, but it would have felt like it to me.
Hugo is my favorite film of 2011. The year isn’t over yet, but it’s getting close.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10