Hugo (2011 Paramount Pictures/GK Films/Infinitium Nihil)
Twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy.
Starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chlöe Grace Moretz
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Produced by Graham King, Timothy Headington, Martin Scorses & Johnny Depp. Screenplay by John Logan. Based on the novel by Brian Selznick.
This movie was not at all what I expected. I went into it anticipating a fantasy children’s movie. But in reality Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the art of filmmaking.
Set in a Paris train station in the 1930s, Hugo opens with one of the most visually stunning and breathtaking opening sequences you’ll ever see ahead of the opening credits. The story follows Hugo Cabret, an orphan living in the train station performing the daily ritual of keeping the clocks running. He steals from shopkeepers and bakeries to survive and hides in the shadows and walls from the heartless, yet bumbling station inspector, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Hugo befriends a girl, Isabelle, in the train station who signs on to help him solve a mystery left by his father while earning a pittance from toy store owner Georges Melies.
And that’s where the kid’s movie ends and is replaced by what can only be described as one of the most fascinating, engrossing and romantic homages to film you will ever see. I won’t say anymore about the plot itself, but suffice it to say Hugo took me by complete surprise for its utter completeness as a movie. Visually, it is a masterpiece. With help from Industrial Light & Magic, the cinematography is simply awe inspiring.
And true to a Scorsese picture, Hugo is perfectly paced and unfolded. It is also a dramatic departure from Scorsese’s usual fair of gangsters, cops and larger-than-life anti-heroes. But you also get the sense that this is the story he’s been dying to tell his whole life. And he relies on a diminutive little boy to carry the audience through it. As Hugo, Asa Butterfield is stunningly good. And Chlöe Grace Moretz is much more charming and authentic in this movie, unlike her most known role as a vulgar “super hero” in Kick-Ass (a movie I pretty much hated).
This was the Best Picture nominee I wanted to see the least and came away loving it the most. But you’ll have to see for yourself what I mean by “love letter” to filmmaking.
**** starts (out of five)