by Sean O. Murphy (Photos courtesy of GK Films)
Dec 17, 2011
When a film doesn’t work, it is usually very simple to point out the reasons why it doesn’t work for me. When a film borders on perfection it is much harder to label the reasons for its brilliance. The latter example is a wonderful problem to have, which is exactly case with Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”.
While most reviewers rush to get out their opinion, I was reluctant to explain exactly it was that Scorsese had done so right with this film. It was not that it was difficult to enumerate the things that I enjoyed but rather that it was very challenging to determine exactly which one of these things made this film such an incredibly realized endeavor.
Despite Scorsese’s credentials, it is remarkable how masterfully this movie is set to film and how spectacularly beautiful it is to behold. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is engaging and pulls the audience in from the very first scenes. The art direction and the use of 3D (impressively making the most of this technology as an additional set of paints on the canvas) embrace the audience and emerge them into the world that the filmmakers have created and make that world so welcoming that the theater-goer is disappointed to leave it when the lights come back up.
This is Scorsese’s first “family film” in over fifty years of filmmaking. Scorsese does not condescend or compromise in any way the telling of this story and it is as sophisticated and grand as any other story he has told before. Ideal for audiences from twelve to the grave, “Hugo” has a young protagonist but is a tale that touches on very ancient and eternal mysteries.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living inside the walls of the Paris train station. He is abandoned by his drunkard uncle (Ray Winstone) and left with the duty of winding the station’s giant clocks. His only real connection with the father (Jude Law) he loved so dearly is a broken, intricate boy-like automaton, an inherited riddle that he must repair to decipher a message from his dead father. His adventure leads him to an impoverished toymaker, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). Providing additional clues is the librarian, Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee). The antagonist is the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who pursues Hugo at every turn. The solving of one puzzle becomes yet one more clue toward a more complicated problem that Hugo must “fix”. This film is achingly sad, lovelorn and ultimately offers a very revealing insight into the healing power of film and literature on the injured human heart.
Each performance in this film was adept. Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley are the perfect embodiments of their characters and Chloe Moretz does not disappoint either. Sacha Baron Cohen provides a surprisingly dimensional portrayal. Every performer serves their part and the story.
This film quite simply speaks my heart language. Though some may see this as Scorsese’s vain attempt to use Brian Selznick’s graphic novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” as an excuse to argue on behalf of his pet cause of film preservation, I see this movie as much more. I find in this film a champion of story whether in literature or film. It is a champion of that part of us that dares to imagine purpose and a touch of the divine within the human psyche. Imagination is the currency of our dreams. Literature and film are keys to the kingdoms of our hearts. Scorsese understands this. Beyond the mere preservation of film, Scorsese is arguing for us to protect and preserve the very soul inside civilization, that which makes us dream and the expressions of those dreams. In a world that would melt down films to make soldier’s boot heels, Scorsese is arguing to preserve that which truly makes us human; our imagination.