Film Review: Hugo

(Published in Issue 5 of my publication In Retrospect)

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Hugo is a 3D family adventure based on Brian Selznick‘s award-winning best-seller, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Set in 1930s Paris, a young orphan boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), lives a secret life in the walls of a train station where he has to reset the clocks every day. His late father (Jude Law) has left him with the mystery of an automaton, a clockwork mannequin, still in need of repair. One day, whilst running away from the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) so that he won’t be sent to an orphanage, Hugo bumps into a young girl, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and gets on the wrong side of her godfather Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). But the key around Isabelle’s neck may be what Hugo was looking for in order to reveal the automaton’s secret, which in return will open up a new world for everybody involved, and maybe even a place that Hugo will be able to call home.

Hugo is a film about films, made by a man who knows a lot about films. Opening with an incredible shot of Paris in snowfall; you know straight away that it is going to be good. As Scorsese’s first 3D family film, Hugo is a brilliant crafted, joyful experience full of imagination, celebrating the early years of cinema and real-life pioneer filmmaker, Georges Méliés.

However, I don’t know if I would quite class it as a children’s film. Naive and not looking for anything in particular, of course, the younger audience will enjoy this film because of its stunning setting and extravagant visuals. But I’m not sure it’s a film that after seeing it once they would beg to see again. Whilst the first third of the film is what is seen in the trailer, heavily focused on a magical automaton and the adventure of a young boy to unravel its mystery, the main focus of the film is actually very deep and meaningful. Fixing the automaton is only the first piece in a much larger story, which is in need of great understanding to truly appreciate.

With that in mind, it is very well suited for adults, especially of those with a love of cinema. The use of two children, Butterfield and Moretz, in the lead roles of this story is why the film works so well because this is how the adventure unravels. They are intrigued, they are excited, and as Isabelle puts it in the film, “It’s Neverland and Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped up into one.” This reminds me of Butterfield’s memorable performance in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which looks at the horror of the WW2 extermination camps through a friendship that his character, the son of a Nazi officer, forms with a Jewish inmate of the same age. Looking at something serious through the innocent eyes of a child sees the film in a much purer light.

As with Butterfield’s role in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, he gave a brilliant performance in Hugo. Not really emotionally relatable, but he did what he had to at a high level. As for Moretz, I have never really been a fan. There’s no denying her outstanding ability to act, especially from such a young age, but her roles in Kick Ass and 500 Days of Summer have always been one that I can’t get to grips with. In Hugo, however, Moretz gave a great performance, playing a role that fit her, and her age, extremely well.

The only fault that I can find with the film is that it wasn’t as magical as I had hoped. Being released around the Christmas season, I was hoping for that childhood feeling you get from such classic films that we grew up watching. Instead, I ended up thinking, “Well that was very interesting.” Again, this reflects on the film ending up less of a children’s film then it started off. It’s not even really a film for mainstream audiences. For that, it wasn’t what I expected so I didn’t enjoy it to its full potential.

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