Asa Butterfield, Jude Law, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen
Newcomer Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo, a young orphan who lives secretly inside a Parisian train station, with only a broken automaton for company. He believes that the automaton holds a secret from his father (Jude Law) and steals parts to fix it from Georges Méliès (the superbly bitter Ben Kingsley). Méliès is an old man who owns a toy store and whose incandescent goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), befriends Hugo and attempts to help him. As Hugo comes closer to unlocking the mystery, he must stay hidden from the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen in fine slapstick form) a man with no patience or pity for orphans.
Led by visionary director Martin Scorsese, Hugo is passionate and beautiful, but ultimately flawed. John Logan’s screenplay (adapted from Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret) often feels simplistic and the first half of the movie tends to drag a little with the actors, though earnest enough, having to play rather stock characters. Christopher Lee, in a tiny role as the bookstore owner Monsieur Labisse, was my personal favourite. The second half, however, deals with the life and work of famed real life Director Georges Méliès — and that is where Hugo really takes off.
Visually, Hugo is breathtaking, despite being controversially filmed in 3D. Cinematographer Robert Richardson always does great work. Scorsese does his best to make the 3D work — and it often does — although there have been some unfavourable comparisons to the artificial look in films like The Polar Express.
This film is first and foremost a love letter to cinema and that is why it will be beloved by many involved in the craft. The sequences involving Méliès and the birth of cinema are visually stunning and punch real emotional impact. Hugo also manages to tug at the heart strings. Overlooking the Parisian cityscape, Hugo explains to Isabelle, “I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.”
As Hugo’s father tells him, “Films have the power to capture dreams.” Finding purpose and a sense of belonging is a dream that everyone shares.