Wednesday, December 7, 2011

HUGO (2011)

Martin Scorsese loves the movies.  You see it in every frame of his films:  from the ultraviolent gangster picture GOODFELLAS to his overrated period piece THE AGE OF INNOCENCE to his underrated nightmare comedy AFTER HOURS (one of my favorites).  This is his love letter to moving pictures.  Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of a Paris train station circa 1930.  The orphan has kept the station clocks running ever since his drunk Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) failed to return to the job.  When he isn’t scurrying around inner workings or hiding from the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo pilfers gears and small parts from a grumpy toy seller named Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).  With the help of a notebook created by his late father (an affecting Jude Law, seen in flashback) Hugo has been using these items to repair an automaton that he believes holds the key to a mystery.  After Méliès confiscates the notebook, Hugo befriends the proprietor’s goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) to help get the precious papers back.  With the guidance of Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee), a keeper of books, and historian Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), the children discover Méliès’ hidden past as a magician and fabulist filmmaker.  Scorsese directs John Logan’s screenplay, based on the children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, with a leisurely European tempo and atmosphere.  Hugo spends much of the film’s first half observing train station denizens through clock faces.  He watches Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) tentatively woo Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour).  Meanwhile the self-conscious Station Inspector, whose leg was crippled in WWI, struggles to approach flower seller Lisette (Emily Mortimer).  Robert Richardson’s marvelous cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s gorgeous production design add to the film’s lush look, and Butterfield’s expressive face says much with little dialogue.  While Logan’s script introduces plot threads that lead nowhere and Scorsese, like an indulgent lover, allows his film to ramble on too long, movie buffs will find this cinematic confection irresistible.  (Scorsese uses the 3-D process beautifully, but I would have preferred to see the film in the standard format.)


  1. I like your review. I enjoyed reading it. I didn't like Hugo. I did not enjoy watching it. Yes, it is clear (as you wrote) that the film is a love letter to movies from Scorsese. But, like most love letters from one to another, I don't want to to read them. He can write all the private love letters he wants. But, when he makes a movie, he should try to at least keep me awake.

  2. For my taste, I like a bit more fantasy, magic and supernatural elements, like in Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia. Still, I feel Hugo will be a timeless treasure discovered by each new generation.