Hugo – 2011
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Helen McCrory, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer
Written by John Logan, based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
There have been enough 3D movies made by now you would figure that someone would have figured out a way to get it right more often than they do. More often, though, you see the effect pounded into 2D gore fests that have nothing better to do than to shove something at the screen. Avatar got it right a few years ago, when Cameron showed that it was more effective to allow little things to drift in and out of the screen here and there and to almost never go for the dramatic, in your face shot.
Martin Scorsese (who else?), in his first time out, has now done it better. In taking the children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, he has created a fantastic, but realistic world, where everyday life can be at once magical, haunting and sadly beautiful. Snow flecks and steam make their way from the sides, meandering from the screen at a leisurely pace that sends chills into the mind of the 3D viewer. This effect is in no way diminished when watching the film in 2D. Throughout the railway station Gare Montparnasse, flits and bits of dust particles wander to and fro, making one completely aware of the fact that they are in an actual living space. I have never seen anything like it.
The film’s central character, Hugo Cabret (Butterfield), develops into a sympathetic protagonist at the classic level. In truth there are no characters wasted in any way. No moment is lost in developing the humanity of every person portrayed. From a cute elderly prospective couple (Griffiths and de la Tour) to the station’s lead Inspector Gustave (Cohen) and florist Lisette (Mortimer), we are made to feel like real participants in their lives. We see what they want, and it is so endearing it becomes what we want.
The basic story is one of an orphan son of a clock-maker, who by sad happenstance becomes that timekeeper for all the clocks in the station. His
melancholy existence is made easier by his experiences picking up broken pieces from the toy store of one Georges Méliès (Kingsley) and repairing them. After getting caught one day, his life is inextricably thrown together with the toy maker, his wife (McCrory) and their god-daughter (Moretz). Mixed in the midst is the station inspector, who is always on the lookout for young thieves, and if caught, sends them to the local orphanage. The story behind this story is amazing, and true.
Scorsese has been working on film restoration for a several years. His efforts have saved many movies along the way. This movie should save a considerable number more. It’s astounding to think of the back story of Méliès, with the all of the incredible images his work has introduced into Western Civilization. The effect of this movie was to reinvigorate my love for cinema. It might as well have been me in that theater with Hugo and Isabelle watching Harold Lloyd. Through watching their eyes, I am a kid again.
As the story develops, Scorsese has wrapped us in a cocoon of wonder. So involved are we that our very hopes and fears are tied into the fate of Hugo, that we are breathless at the climax. The director’s approach is multi-layered, in that we feel what is going to happen before we see it. Not surprisingly, we could be wrong. We are breathless in anticipating the result. Scorsese handles every aspect of the film as a living entity. Indeed, images flooded my mind in the days and nights since I viewed it the first time. It feels like I never left.
Butterfield and Moretz have a remarkable chemistry, if for no other reason than they are incredibly gifted actors. Butterfield’s eyes are the color of a deep blue ocean, totally transparent in their honesty and kindness. He is the actor that has been hired to play Ender Wiggin in the upcoming feature based on the book Ender’s Game. At 14, he is about twice the age that the actor should be, but I think his acting will be worth the problems with the age difference. Especially with Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham.
What can be said about Moretz that has not already been opined? As incredibly gifted physically as any teen actress I have seen, based on her role in Kick-Ass, she also has magnificent acting chops, as demonstrated in Let Me In. Hers was the best part in the otherwise disappointing Texas Killing Fields. Before her career is over, she will have won multiple Oscars.
This movie is a landmark in cinema, and to say it’s one of Scorsese’s best should seem ridiculous, but it isn’t. This may well be the best film he has ever brought to life. The great thing about Scorsese’s work, though, is everything he does in this film goes to show that he is deferential to a director, Méliès, that he knows is leagues beyond himself. It’s humility like this that makes him a good man. This film is a crowning achievement for two of the best directors of all time.
(***** out of *****)