Based on the Brian Selznick novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese's first family movie combines a young boy's adventure with a cinematic history lesson. It's a celebration of wide-eyed wonder that's a joy to watch, although the title isn't the only thing that's dumbed-down.
In early 1930s Paris, the orphaned Hugo (Butterfield) lives in Montparnasse station, where he scurries through forgotten passageways maintaining the clocks. He learned this skill from his late father (Law), but an automaton they were fixing is his only reminder of his happier childhood. Dodging the tenacious station inspector (Baron Cohen), Hugo worms his way into the life of grouchy shopkeeper Georges (Kingsley), and has a series of adventures with his goddaughter Isabelle (Moretz). When they learn that Georges is forgotten pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies, they decide to help bring him back to life.
Scorsese tells this story with bravura moviemaking trickery, from whooshing tracking shots to wonderfully inventive uses of 3D. He also peppers the screen with witty references to film history from Modern Times to Vertigo, clips from early cinema and flashbacks to the Lumiere brothers' exhibition and Melies' busy studio. Meanwhile, the main plot unfolds with a warmly inviting glow, sharply telling details and a colourful cast of memorable side characters.
Intriguingly, everyone is a bit opaque; like the automaton, the gears turn but we never really understand them.
Butterfield's Hugo may be consumed by an inner yearning, but he's always on guard, providing a watchful pair of eyes through which we see the drama, romance and slapstick of the station. And it's in these details that Scorsese and his cast draw us in. Standouts are Baron Cohen, who adds layers of comedy and pathos to every scene, and McCrory (as Mrs Melies), with her barely suppressed enthusiasm. As usual, Kingsley never lets his guard down: he invests this broken man with a bit too much dignity.
As the film progresses, the passion for the movies is infectious. Scorsese's gorgeous visual approach and writer Logan's controlled cleverness never overwhelm the human story. And even if Melies' life and Paris' geography are adjusted for no real reason, the film's warm drama and delightful imagery really get under the skin, making us fall in love with the movies all over again.
Run time: 126 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 23rd November 2011
Box Office USA: $73.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $180.9M
Distributed by: Paramount Studios
Production compaines: Infinitum Nihil, Paramount Pictures, GK Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 190 Rotten: 13
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriter: John Logan
Starring: Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret, Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle, Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès, Sacha Baron Cohen as The Station Inspector, Jude Law as Hugo's Father, Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse, Helen McCrory as Mama Jeanne, Michael Stuhlbarg as Rene Rabard, Marco Aponte as Julien Carette, Emily Mortimer as Lisette, Ray Winstone as Uncle Claude, Frances de la Tour as Madame Emilie, Richard Griffiths as Monsieur Frick