Hugo

Hugo

2011, PG, 126 min. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law, Richard Griffiths.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 25, 2011

Martin Scorsese steps outside his usual comfort zone of gangsters, crime, and American pop culture to create one of his most atypical movies – an effects-heavy children’s film set in France – and winds up creating one of the most splendid and personal films of his career. A visual and technological stunner, Hugo manages to wrap an emotionally involving story about an orphaned boy in 1930s Paris around a passionate appeal for the practice of film preservation, a cause close to the director’s heart. In the process, Scorsese also schools other filmmakers and viewers in the use of 3-D as a potential enhancement to the art of storytelling rather than its contemporary bastardization as a requisite gewgaw.

Hugo (Butterfield) is a near-adolescent boy who lives alone within the inner depths of a Parisian train station amid the giant gears and mechanisms of the station’s numerous clocks, which he maintains and adjusts to run on time. Hugo was taught his mechanical skills by his father (Law), who dies before completing the repair of a sophisticated automaton he found abandoned in a museum. The boy continues to tinker with the automaton after he is relocated to the train station where his drunkard uncle (Winstone) maintains the clocks until he disappears, leaving Hugo again on his own. The boy nicks items of food from the station’s cafe and tools from the depot’s toy store. But right after the magnificent tracking shot that opens the film, Hugo is caught red-handed by the toy shop’s crusty owner, who is later revealed to be Georges Méliès (Kingsley), the forgotten inventor of special-effects filmmaking. This now-bankrupt and bitter former magician lives with his wife, Jeanne (McCrory), and their adopted daughter, Isabelle (Moretz), a girl about Hugo’s age who befriends her fellow orphan. Quite different from each other, she introduces him to her world of erudition, and Hugo introduces her to his steampunk lifestyle and the world of movies, which has been forbidden to her.

Hugo is perhaps not a story for the youngest of children as there are no talking animals or catchy melodies. But for older kids, adolescents, and grown-ups, Hugo may be the equivalent of young-adult literature that nourishes while it entertains. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is unquestionably the most impressive work seen this year, and there should be no debate about awarding him the Oscar in this category. Richardson conspires with Scorsese to swoop and track the camera, and adds dimensionality with puffs of steam and inventive re-creation of things like the fabled audience reaction to the Lumière brothers’ first film attraction, “Train Leaving the Station.” The duo even uses the tall, skinny body of Sacha Baron Cohen’s station inspector for maximum – and hilarious – 3-D effects. Scorsese’s entire crew, particularly Sandy Powell’s costumes and Dante Ferretti’s production design, functions at the top of its game in Hugo. Although a nip and a tuck here and there might improve Hugo’s overall pace, there is no denying that this love letter to the movies is something to cherish.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Hugo
From the Vaults: John Logan
From the Vaults: John Logan
How did Johnny Depp come to be a producer of Hugo?

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 26, 2011

More Martin Scorsese Films
The Irishman
Scorsese's filmmaking excellence can't mask a flawed retreading of mob history

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 8, 2019

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese
Recounting of legendary Dylan tour is best when the details blur themselves

Richard Whittaker, June 11, 2019

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
The Last Tree
British migrant coming-of-age drama empathetically explores what it is to belong

July 17, 2020

The Truth
Binoche and Deneuve clash exquisitely as mère et fille

July 3, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Hugo, Martin Scorsese, Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law, Richard Griffiths

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle