Time: 126 Minutes
Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle
Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès/Papa Georges
Sacha Baron Cohen as Inspector Gustave Dasté
Ray Winstone as Claude Cabret
Emily Mortimer as Lisette
Jude Law as Mr. Cabret
Helen McCrory as Jehanne D’Alcy/Mama Jeanne
Michael Stuhlbarg as René Tabard
Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse
Director: Martin Scorsese
Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in a Paris railway station, tending to the station clocks during his uncle’s (Ray Winstone) mysterious absence. He scrounges food from the vendors and steals mechanical parts from the owner of a toy shop, Georges Melies (Ben Kinglsey). In fact, Hugo’s father was a watchmaker and he has inherited his father’s (Jude Law) talents for all things mechanical. Years before, Hugo’s father found an intricate mechanical man, but they could never figure out how it worked. Hugo befriends Melies’s ward, Isabelle (Chloe Grace-Moretz), and together they have an adventure, one that centres around Méliès himself.
I recall Hugo being the first movie of Martin Scorsese’s that I saw, and I remember liking it quite a lot when I did. With that said, it had been a while since I’ve last seen it, and I had a feeling that I would appreciate it more upon a more recent viewing, and having watched that more recently, I was right. While it looks as a kids movie and certainly looks like that, it also works as something much more, and is overall very well made.
Hugo may be by far Martin Scorsese’s most age appropriate film, and I think there’s a lot here that kids may like, but there’s more parts to it that they aren’t going to fully get or appreciate. Teenagers are more likely to enjoy it more than kids to be honest. The movie starts off pretty well, however the second half is where the movie really takes an interesting turn, as it becomes Scorsese’s love letter to cinema. At this point of the movie, you begin to get why he chose to direct this. It focuses on an era we don’t see portrayed in film much, that being the silent era, and ends up being a tribute to filmmaker Georges Melies. The only part I didn’t like of the movie was for whatever reason there was sometimes random comedy thrown in, it wasn’t particularly funny and distracted from the rest of the movie. Thankfully it didn’t happen too often, but you are taken out a bit when its present.
The cast generally do a good job in their roles, the only thing that was a little distracting was that you often forget that Hugo is set in France, given that there aren’t many French accents present over the course of the movie. Asa Butterfield was pretty solid in the lead role, and Chloe Grace Moretz was also good, with the two of them sharing some decent chemistry. The supporting cast are also really good, with Ben Kingsley (giving his best performance in a long time here as Georges Melies), Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law, Christopher Lee and more doing a lot of good work. Some of the actors don’t get to really do much and maybe get like one or two scenes (like Law and Lee) but they do a lot to make you remember them. Now there are some supporting characters which really didn’t serve much purpose outside of some brief comedy. Much of the comic relief surrounds the Station Inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen, although he occasionally poses as an antagonist to the title character, a lot of the scenes with him are just for comedy. Cohen definitely plays the role as he’s meant to, and the fault isn’t him. There are scenes where they try to imply that there’s more to this character outside of being a cartoonish and typical authority figure in a kids movie, but they never follow through with it really so those moments feel pointless.
Martin Scorsese as usual directs this very well, but this is a very different movie from him, it involves a lot of visual effects which at least up to that point you wouldn’t see him using a ton. Scorsese is one of those filmmakers who uses CGI as tools to tell his story, while Hugo is indeed fantastic to look at and there are plenty of times where you can see it in all its glory, you never get the feeling that it’s just on screen to only look pretty. It’s never at the detriment of the rest of the film. Much praise should also go towards the production design, with this visually modernized France from the 20th Century, making it really appealing to watch. Robert Richardson’s cinematography really captures the whole movie very well, it’s generally a gorgeous looking film throughout.
Putting aside some distracting comic relief, Hugo is on the whole really good and deserves more praise amongst Martin Scorsese’s filmography, even though it was widely praised upon its release, it’s unfortunately been forgotten. It’s a gorgeous movie directed excellently by Scorsese per usual, the cast generally do well in their roles, and it works as both a kids movie and a tribute to cinema, as well as the power of cinema. Definitely worth a watch.