Director Martin Scorsese is known for more grittier and violent fare like his Oscar-winning film The Departed but his latest film, Hugo, is very much aimed at the whole family and his first foray into the world of 3D films.
Hugo is a fantasy adventure that takes place in a Paris railway station in the early 1930s. After the tragic death of his father (Jude Law – in a very brief but emotionally effective role), young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lands in the care of his drunk uncle (Ray Winstone) who works at said railway station winding the clocks. The uncle soon abandons Hugo and Hugo is left alone to care for the clocks and survives in the railway station by stealing food. But he also steals clogs and springs and other stuff from a toy booth that is owned by an old man (Ben Kingsley). You see before Hugo’s dad died, they were working together to fix an automaton that when it works actually writes something. The parts that Hugo is stealing is to fix the automaton that has a mysterious heart shape keyhole that helps wind it. All the while Hugo avoids capture from the station master (Sasha Baron Cohen).
At first you think the film is about Hugo’s quest to fix the automaton and find the heart-shape key and is aided in the adventure with the help of Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz -sporting a very impressive British accent) who happens to be the Goddaughter of Ben Kingsley’s Papa George but that is actually only a small part of the movie.
In fact it is actually what the automaton draws that leads to the true heart of the movie. It turns out that Papa George is actually film-maker Georges Méliès (one of his famous films is Le Voyage dans la Lune) and it is all about re-discovering the love of movies in a basic sense.
Of all the movies that I have seen in 3D this year, this is the first one that really uses it effectively. There was one point in the movie where I briefly removed them to wipe away a tear that I saw the screen have that blurry image you get when a film is truly in 3D. I didn’t see that when I saw Captain America, Green Lantern and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. You see snow falling towards you and you also feel the actors popping out at the screen to you are some examples of Scorsese’s use of 3D.
The film is gorgeous to look at especially the scenes at the railway station.
Kingsley gives a very moving performance as Georges Melies as well as Butterfield. Moretz is also good as Isabelle as she infuses her performance with a sense of joy and wonderment especially when she sees her very first film. And Cohen does offer a nice comic/villainous performance as Inspector Gustav and gives a little bit more layers to his character when you think that his character is a stereotype.
However, I think there are some characters that had no real point in the film. For example, I think that Richard Griffiths as Monsieur Frick as the newspaper seller and Frances De La Tour as Madame Emilie the owner of the cafe are wasted and have no real plot point except for De La Tour who briefly helps Sacha Baron Cohen’s Inspector Gustav woo Lisette, the flower seller (Emily Mortimer).
This is a nice film to take the family to this holiday season and Hugo’s setting at winter time makes it fitting to see. However at over two hours long, I wouldn’t take anyone younger than 8 years old to it.