I smiled. I cried. I almost hugged the stranger seated next to me in delight. Part Dickensian adventure tale and part biopic, Hugo played my heartstrings expertly, evoking a real sense of joy and wonder. And considering that its subject, legendary filmmaker Georges Méliè, started off as a magician, it is fitting that Hugo is a bit magical.
The film is also directed by a legend. Martin Scorsese, who has made a career out of serious and gritty American crime films, not only makes his first 3D picture, but also his first family film. And it seems that the first time’s the charm as Hugo wins on both counts. The 3D effects are a fine complement to the gorgeous film, while the movie itself works splendidly for viewers of all ages.
Set in 1930, the film starts with its titular character, 12-year-old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), as an orphan who has lost his doting father (Jude Law), a widowed clockmaker, to a museum fire. To make matters worse, he now has to live with his alcoholic uncle Claude Cabret (Ray Winstone) at a bustling Paris railway station, where he maintains the clocks.
After his uncle disappears, Hugo takes up the task of maintaining the railway clocks in order to avoid suspicion, all the while dodging orphan hunting Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen). Feeling terribly lonely, Hugo’s only comforts are the memories of the Georges Méliès films he viewed with his father, and the broken robot his father brought home from the museum before his death. Believing that the automaton carries a special message from his father, Hugo steals mechanical parts from a sulky toy store owner (Ben Kingsley) to complete its repairs, eventually only requiring a heart shaped key to activate it.
The movie eventually shifts the focus from Hugo to Georges Méliè and in a sublime turn, celebrates the birth of cinema. In the final act, the film reveals itself as what it truly is: Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 5th, 2012.