The words “Martin Scorsese” and “family-friendly film” don’t seem like the most logical pairing. The master director behind movies like Goodfellas, The Departed and Taxi Driver (movies usually associated with violent themes) certainly surprised audiences with Hugo, a fantasy mystery adventure film, shot in gimmicky 3D nonetheless. Thankfully the change in direction hasn’t affected Scorsese’s ability to tell an extraordinary story, undoubtedly a fitting description for Hugo, a nostalgic look back at the art of film making.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
CAST: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee
GENRE: Fantasy Adventure
AGE RESTRICTION: PG
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Although it’s based on an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), the five time Oscar-winning Hugo seems to be the lovechild of Scorsese’s personal views and his love for the magic of cinema. While Hugo is uncharted territory, Scorsese holds his own and delivers a film filled with wonder and technical brilliance. The breath-taking opening sequence of 1930’s Paris, which looks like an image straight out of a children’s fantasy book, winds us back into the past and sets the tone.
The story centres on a young orphan (Asa Butterfield) in post-World War I, who lives in a major train station. He spends his days maintaining the station clocks and painstakingly collecting parts to repair a mechanical automaton (clockwork man), which he believes holds a secret message from his late watchmaker/inventor father. When his father’s diary is confiscated by a grumpy toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley), he befriends a young girl (Chloe Moretz) who might hold the missing puzzle piece in his mysterious adventure. Soon all the dots are connected and surprisingly everyone is magically linked to the mechanical automaton.
Underneath the visual prowess lie remarkably well-acted characters. The children, especially the wide blue-eyed Butterfield, deliver the most charming performances. Their on-screen chemistry is both believable and sweet. Kingsley is, as always, on the ball, delivering a gripping performance. Yet the biggest surprise comes from crass comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen who channels his best Peter Sellers impersonation to play the strict and uncompassionate station police officer. Who knew he had any “real” acting ability?
Ultimately most of the praise belongs to Scorsese who reminds us of both the importance of fantasy and film, and ultimately the link that holds them together. Hugo gracefully draws its audience into a world of clocks, mechanics, steam trains and cinematic homages. It’s a world you would love to escape to, again and again.