Martin Scorsese’s Hugo inspires the kind of affection and awe that few modern movies do. Starting out as an enchanting adventure story, the film ultimately reveals itself as a tribute to the history and the power of cinema.
Lusciously photographed, in glorious 3D, it tells the story of 12-year-old Hugo (Asa Butterfield), an orphan in 1930s Paris, who secretly lives inside the walls of a train station, and keeps all the clocks running on time. Living off whatever food he can steal, the little boy also nicks small mechanical parts from a toymaker (Ben Kingsley) in the hope of repairing a clockwork robot that his father (Jude Law) brought home from the museum before his death. But when the toymaker catches Hugo and insists that the boy work at his shop to compensate for the thefts, he becomes friendly with the old man’s adventure-seeking goddaughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) and sets out to uncover not only the mystery behind his automaton, but also the toymaker’s secret past.
Winner of 5 Academy Awards this year – for cinematography, art direction, visual effects, sound mixing, and sound editing –Hugo is a sumptuous visual treat, not least because Scorsese uses his trademark long, fluid takes to give us a solid sense of the world he’s created. The film opens with a breathtaking shot of the city, the camera then swooping down to the busy railway station, moving in and out of hallways and passages, finally making its way up to the clock chambers, before settling on to young Hugo as he peers at the world from behind the face of a giant clock… You’re hooked from the moment in.
Unraveling slowly, the film takes its premise of childhood dreams and yearning, and meshes it with Scorsese’s fascination for a bygone era of cinema and his well-known love for film preservation. Indeed, there’s a magical quality to the flashback scenes depicting how the earliest films were made.
If there’s a false note here, it’s Sacha Baron Cohen’s caricaturish portrayal of a stern stationmaster obsessed with capturing orphans. The rest of the cast, particularly Ben Kingsley, is so rooted in their characters that they sweep you away with the film’s wondrous narrative.
This is Scorsese’s first 3D movie after more than four decades of making some of the world’s most acclaimed films. The simple beauty of Hugo is that the master filmmaker employs cinema’s latest tools to tell a story that travels all the way back to one of the first moments in film. Apart from which, you’re struck by the inherent innocence and the old-fashioned wholesomeness of Hugo… this from the man who shaped modern masterpieces like the visceral Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.
I’m going with four-and-a-half out of five for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Don’t be put off by its leisurely pacing – this is a beautiful, moving film that’ll linger in your heart for days.