Written by: John Logan
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone
The glorious magic of the movies has served as the foundation of many films with good reason as the very filmmakers who create these wonderful productions have their own history of how they became infatuated with the medium. Not many filmmakers on the planet have gained enough cred as a complete lover of film than Martin Scorsese, which made him making this effervescently loving moving picture no real surprise. While sticking out like a sore thumb in his filmography, Hugo finds the legendary director trying out new things, which can always be appreciated.
Within a French train station, a young boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) operates the clocks taking over for his uncle, who has disappeared. In his free time, he snags enough food to survive as well as taking the necessary parts to finish the machine his late father loved recreating. As he gets caught in taking a part by shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley), he begins to spend more time with the man’s granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) as they get closer to unlocking more of this particular machine.
From a director known for taking on adult-oriented films regarding mobsters, religion, and general crime, seeing Scorsese explore something like Hugo still shocks me. On a story and aesthetic level it brings out a different side of the filmmaker, especially with his attempt to have this 3-D and it shows in the way it gets shot. While not having the opportunity to view the film in that premium format, the feature still captures wonderfully youthful zeal in trying to discover while being hindered by the rules of adults. Hugo experiences this on a daily basis as he tries to get around without the knowledge of Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen). Certainly, a child’s perspective, which dulls the edges of Scorsese typically depicts in his features but it still works wonderfully well.
The train station where Hugo secretly applies his trade contains a host of other characters all making it quite the homey place. An important marker to have considering the inherently transient nature of a train station. The only individuals really stepping foot in there are the people getting on and arriving from trains, which means their time there is very limited. On the other hand, you also have those who work there like the florist, Lisette (Emily Mortimer), and bookstore owner, Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee). They each add their personality in making this station quite the lovely place for Hugo to find what he needs and the little side stories shared between them add more texture to the story.
For Hugo, the biggest mystery lies in making this humanoid machine work, as he feels there’s this secret to learning more about his father. The titular character has the backstory of losing his loving father at a young age and this journey allows him to potentially move forward seeing as there’s no way he can go back in time. This little machine remains the only connection he has to his late father, which pretty much sums up the ardent determination he has to see out this process even if it endangers his shelter.
Taking a look at the early days of filmmaking makes this film such a lovely affair because of how one of the characters involved relates the struggle and passion in creating art within this medium. A lovely turning back of the clock (get it?) that hits right at the heart of the sentimentality existent in this feature. Looking back at those scenes showing early films warms the heart in such a gratifying manner because it speaks to the things left behind when life gets real. Hugo finds himself in a similar predicament in crafting this robot and putting his home in peril, but passions cannot be easily extinguished and at times you just need the little push to bring it all back.
Serving as a tremendous departure from the usual works of Martin Scorsese, Hugo brings a level of beauty and a reminder of how pure passions can be when young. Having all of the love in the world for a particular craft that can be stripped away with what life throws at you. This film dares to let its characters dream once again of what they could do when following what they love. A message everyone should be reminded of as the issues of growing up continually gnaw away at us with reality’s problems. Take a step back and enter this fantastical world with its marvelously French score and loving ode to early cinema and creativity.