Hugo is a thank you letter from Martin Scorsese to motion pictures, specifically the first motion pictures and their early pioneers. Using the inquisitive adventures of a young, orphaned French boy, Scorsese leads us into a much broader and surprising area than where the setup begins. Furthermore, Hugo is in 3D which at first thought seems an odd medium from the director of The Departed, Gangs of New York, and Raging Bull. The polished result and gimmicky tricks of 3D do not resemble Scorsese’s gritty and realistic cinematography preferences. It turns out; however, Scorsese is proficient in both mediums. The 3D effects in Hugo are perhaps the best I have ever seen.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a recent orphan scurrying around the Paris train station in 1931 maintaining its myriad clocks while dodging the watchful eye of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Hugo’s father (Jude Law) was an accomplished watch/clock tinkerer and before he passed on, transferred much of knowledge and skill to young Hugo. Unlike other fictional orphans though, Hugo is having some trouble taking care of himself. He is quickly outgrowing his childish clothes, he frequently has trouble pilfering food, and his lack of schooling is starting to show.
Hugo’s loitering ways and incompetent shoplifting efforts not only keep the Station Inspector alert, but they also catch the eye of Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), a toy shop owner in the train station. Through Georges, Hugo meets his granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), an extremely precocious girl who loves books, always tries to fit in new learned vocabulary into her sentences, and finds the orphan boy running the station clocks to be a very intriguing friend. All of this is just setup though while leading towards the true purpose of Hugo.
Papa Georges is not who he appears to be. I will not disclose who he is, but film aficionados will most likely figure it out early on. Hugo’s father used to take him to movies which instilled in Hugo a love of the medium as well; he considers them dreams during the daytime. The discovery, eventual realization, and reaction to Georges are the film’s highlights and are what will stay with the audience rather than Hugo’s exploits. Scorsese’s appreciation of early motion pictures is infectious and will hopefully inspire the kids in the audience to seek out old movies and remind their parents of what once was.
The characters in Hugo are truly fun to watch as they weave in and out of the train station and its hideaways. A particular highlight is Cohen as the Station Inspector. He receives some quality screen time as he attempts to professionally safeguard the station and maybe even impress the local flower girl. Moretz as Isabelle is also quite good. She shows here she may very well break out of her current child actor status and become a much more accomplished actress.
Because Martin Scorsese wanted to share his affection for early motion pictures and found a great script to deliver his message, he has once again made one of the best films of the year. Both children and adults will love this movie regardless that a child is its main character or that it is in 3D. I highly recommend Hugo and encourage you to just sit back and enjoy it.