Most of the time, we go to the movies merely to be entertained. But every once in a while, a movie comes along that makes us realize the true power and magic of film, and what an impact this medium has had on our lives, whether we’re writers, filmmakers, or viewers. Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”, based on a book by Brian Selznick, is one such movie.
Set in 1930s Paris, the film centers on Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a young boy who lives in a train station. Following his father’s untimely death, Hugo was taken in by his alcoholic uncle, who taught him how to keep the clocks in the station ticking. After the uncle disappeared, Hugo was alone, save for an automaton his father was trying to fix at the time of his death. This automaton, essentially a robot that runs on a complex system of gears, needs just one thing to unlock whatever secret Hugo is convinced it holds: a key shaped like a heart. While trying to avoid being caught and sent to the orphanage by the station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen), Hugo befriends a girl named Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), whose godfather Georges (Ben Kingsley) runs a small toy shop in the station, and who is greatly bothered when he finds out that Hugo has been stealing parts from him to fix the automaton.
To say more would be to give away what is a wonderful revelation for those who are not familiar with Selznick’s story; suffice it to say that this beautiful film turns out to be a love letter to the movies, and how film inspires us and moves us more than any other experience. At no time is this more apparent than when Hugo sneaks Isabelle into her first movie, Harold Lloyd’s iconic “Safety Last!” A look of awe and complete emotional involvement in what is happening on the screen comes across Isabelle’s face. It’s hard to imagine what one’s response would be upon first watching a movie (many of us were likely too young to even remember what the first movie we saw even was), but Moretz (who continually proves herself to be one of the most serious young actresses working today) gets the sensation across perfectly. The film also addresses, briefly but powerfully, the void left in history when films are lost or destroyed, and the joy felt when films thought lost are rediscovered.
While “Hugo” is an ode to many of cinema’s greatest masterpieces, Scorsese’s film in a marvel in and of itself. The film has been praised for its use of 3D; it is without a doubt the greatest 3D movie ever made. It is far from gimmicky, and never overused, but its presence is evident throughout. There are times when you really do feel as if you were walking through the train station or climbing amongst the giant gears in the clock tower with Hugo. Another high point of the film are the recreations of old film sets and the incorporation of clips of many silent movies—this flashbacks are particularly thrilling for film buffs, who get the chance to relive film history through Scorsese’s recreations.
The film is primarily set inside the train station, but the setting never gets dull. Scorsese creates his own little world in this station, with recurring characters and side stories that create a sense of warmth and familiarity. And speaking of characters, what a wonderful cast brings this story to life. Moretz, as mentioned before, is wonderful, and so is Butterfield, an impressive newcomer. Kingsley delivers his most powerful performance in years, while Cohen evokes everything from disgust to sympathy, providing just the right amount of comic relief as the villain who, as it turns out, isn’t really all that bad. Other small but significant performances can be seen from Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Jude Law, who plays Hugo’s tinkerer father in a flashback.
Cast and cinematography aside, “Hugo” boasts a story that ranges from sad to mysterious to uplifting. Most importantly, it pays tribute to one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, who may be long gone, may even be forgotten by most, but will never truly fade away so long as we have movies and people like Scorsese who love them enough to ensure that they don’t.
Runtime: 207 minutes. Rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Granite City
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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