Movie Review: Hugo

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: John Logan,  Brian Selznick

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher LeeBen KingsleyRay WinstoneEmily MortimerHelen McCroryMichael StuhlbargFrances de la TourRichard GriffithsJude Law

Verdict: A beautiful family friendly treat

Hugo is an infamously family friendly (how often do you get to say that?) movie from the master of dark character studies Martin Scorsese, (GoodfellasThe DepartedThe Wolf of Wall Street). It follows orphaned clock-making whizz kid Hugo Cabret with Asa Butterfield, (Ender’s GameThe Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) bringing to life the titular role. He steals from the wrong, old, curmudgeonly, embittered toy maker with a damaged heart of gold, Georges, played by the always mercurial and inimitable Ben Kingsley, (GandhiSchindler’s ListSexy Beast), more than making up for Iron Man 3. Hugo lives in a train station patrolled by the warden, bought to life by Sacha Baron Cohen, (BoratLes Misérables) in fine knockabout form. 

In fact the cast is star studded, and generally fantastic. Helen McCrory is an absolute standout, maybe the best performance in the movie, and it’s a travesty it’s really hard to find many credits for her beyond Draco Malfoy’s anonymous mother because she is a real talent. The cast is rounded out by; Chloë Grace Moretz, (Kick-Ass) doing her best ‘Chamber of Secrets‘ era Hermione Granger impression, Ray Winstone Ray-Winstone-ing, Emily Mortimer being at her most fabulous since The Newsroom, (and she’s normally pretty fabulous), Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour off doing their own little thing, fabulously, Michael Stuhlbarg bringing the same sense of childishness he did to A Serious Man but this time instead of a childish sense of impotence and naivety, he gives a sense of wonder and awe that matches the tone of the film perfectly, Jude Law as Hugo’s father doing that thing Jude Law does of just being really warm and likeable, when he’s not playing Dom Hemingway or Dan from Closer, and last but not least, Christopher Lee, who’s just, well, Christopher fucking Lee. 

It’s not like anyone thinks Martin Scorcese is a one trick pony, he’s pulled off fare that deviates from his usual tropes with period drama The Age of Innocence and Kundun which was scripted by Melissa Mathison of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The BFG fame. And Hugo is very, very well directed, it’s interesting how Martin Scorcese, who’s been making films for decades, makes a film about the origins of cinema whilst effectively mixing old and new techniques; such as tableaux vivants and long tracking shots, arranged by an oscar winning Robert Richardson, (Django UnchainedNatural Born KillersThe Aviator), mixed with colour correction and a sepia tinted, computer generated vision of Paris, which also won oscars for it’s visual effects team. These go together to create the mood of classical era cinema with a contemporary polish, including that sense of joy for and love of the medium from films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Big Sleep, this is a joy which also infects the plot of the film and the viewer themselves. 

In the end that’s the joy of the film, the very tone of joy which leaps of the screen, and a heart warming story that’ll melt the iced over cynicism in anyone. The performances, the side stories of the side characters who inhabit the train station like it was their only home and existence which take on the form of something Chaplinesque. I shed a tear, and if you don’t you’re either a robot or really must have something against this film. The master that is Martin Scorcese adds another string to his bow with aplomb, and despite the classical sense the film has, shows he’s as burningly contemporary as Chris Nolan. 

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