Martin Scorsese has proven himself to be a fantastic filmmaker, creating some of the industries most memorable films. The Oscar winning director is responsible for such movies as “Taxi Driver”, “Gangs of New York”, “The Departed”, and most recently “Shutter Island”. But out of all the movies on Scorsese’s resume, none are quite like “Hugo”. It’s his first foray into the more family friendly genre and his first film shot in 3D. But’s it’s also a stellar example of what a master craftsman can do with a great story, large budget, and the latest technology. Based on the Brian Selznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, “Hugo” is a movie that resonates on nearly every emotional level while also offering one of the most visually stunning experiences you’ll have in a theater. It’s a near masterpiece.
“Hugo” is the story of a young orphan living within the walls of a Paris train station. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) spends time swiping parts from around the train station in order to fix a broken automaton left behind by his deceased father. Desperate and lonely, Hugo hopes that hidden inside of the automaton is a message from his father. He is befriended by an adventurous young girl named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) but runs afoul of her godfather Georges (Ben Kingsley). We also spend time with several wonderful characters from around the train station. There’s the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), a florist (Emily Mortimer), a book store owner (Christopher Lee), and more. These characters not only give the station life and vibrancy, but each have there own little role to play in Hugo’s story.
While the story is beautifully crafted, it’s the performances that drive it. Butterfield is very convincing as Hugo and he really amazed me with his emotional range. Even more impressive was Moretz. She’s energetic, charming, and lights up the screen. Kingsley gives another brilliant performance that deserves serious Oscar consideration and Cohen offers plenty of laughs while also showing a sad, pitiful side to his character. There is not one bad performance in the picture and Scorsese manages his actors with precision. These performances are perfect compliments to his directing style.
While this isn’t the sort of material you would usually relate to Scorsese, he handles it with the exact same care and detail as any of his other pictures. Even with it’s big imagination and sometimes fantasy feel, this is a story that seems deeply personal to the director and he pours out affection on every scene. His vision of 1930s Paris grabbed me from it first gorgeous sprawling shot and through every intricate detail found in the architecture, wardrobes, dialogue, and mannerisms. Scorsese’s use of the camera and his ability to set up shots is impeccable and the way he use’s 3D gives me hope for the technology. It’s worth noting that this is a movie you should see in 3D. With so many cheap conversions and cash grabs out there, Scorsese gives us the most visually engaging use of 3D since Avatar. It’s at times subtle and other time jaw-dropping but always pleasing to the eye and immersive.
“Hugo” is a film that should strike a chord with any true movie lover. Not only is it expert storytelling and a visual master work, but it’s a tip of the hat to everything that makes movies such a great art form. Scorsese takes us back to the early days of silent cinema and shows the power and influence of film. There’s no way you can watch the second half of this movie and not have a stronger appreciation for motion pictures and the way it’s incorporated into Hugo’s story is practically flawless.
“Hugo” is a family friendly drama and a celebration of cinema all wrapped into one. It’s a movie for both adults and children yet it never caters specifically to either. It’s an intelligent and earnest picture that earns our tears at the end through it’s genuine sincerity and tenderness. It’s a visual marvel with the same signature camera work we’ve seen throughout Scorsese’s career and a dazzling use of 3D that gives the technology the shot in the arm it desperately needs. “Hugo” left me with one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in the theater. This may be Scorsese’s first dive into this new sandbox, but the result is one of the best films of 2011.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS