Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan, Brian Selznick (book)
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: PG
Digital, Color, 127 mins

Synopsis: Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. (Source)

It’s not enough to say that Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Hugo is a love letter to film, to me it goes much deeper than that. Part mystery, part coming-of-age adventure, its mixture of semi-autobiographic fairy tale and historical fact is the closest I’ve seen a movie get to nailing the transformative effects of the true magic that is film. Fittingly, Hugo’s cinematic magic isn’t the kind that comes from spells or overwhelming fantasy elements, but from the value it gives to the personal human interactions we take for granted everyday, exemplifying the best in human nature and spotlighting our ability to bring out the best in each other. It’s a genuine example of pure artistic expression, conveying its conceit with fearless passion and portraying each element with pitch-perfect clarity.

Hugo’s brilliantly layered and focused story is centered around its titular character, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). An orphaned son of a deceased clockmaker, Hugo lives in a series of interconnected tunnels throughout Paris’ Montparnasse train station. He secretly winds all of the station’s clocks, staying one step ahead of the station’s Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), and steals various gears and knickknacks in the hopes of fixing a broken automaton he’s convinced may hold a message from his late father. After an unpleasant run-in with the toy vendor at the station, the bitter and broken-spirited owner Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), Hugo enlists the help of Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to unravel the many secrets that each character (and the automaton) have in store. I already feel that I’ve said too much, so I’m going to restrain myself from telling you the rest. What I can tell you is that by Scorsese basing Hugo’s train station exile on his own asthmatic-based childhood, he’s turned the movie’s film-centric plot device into a cathartic way of showing the impact that artful expression can have on unveiling one’s purpose. The movie’s fictional tale of self-discovery is weaved around real-life, once-forgotten filmmaker Georges Melies — just another joyous detail of many that the movie has to offer among its endless references to the work of Renoir, the Lumiere Brothers and even Melies himself.

Helping to bring Scorsese’s ambitious dream to fruition are a flawless cast, jaw-dropping period production design and the best use of thematically sound 3D I’ve ever witnessed. Every element is inseparable from another, making the movie feel like a fluid and uninterrupted experience from every conceivable aspect. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz as Hugo and Isabelle are perfectly matched, sharing a chemistry full of innocence and awe, speaking volumes through every minute facial tick. Sacha Baron Cohen as Inspector Gustav is even well integrated, never going too over-the-top or belittling the movie’s heavier moments; his channeling of the underplayed Chaplin-like farce is uncanny and perfect in the scheme of things. Finally, Ben Kingsley’s Melies is a heartbreakingly stirring and expectedly nuanced performance that’s one of the best I’ve seen this year. Rounding out the cast are great performances by Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer and Ray Winstone. As for the 3D, it’s breathtaking and works hand-in-hand with the movie’s detailed environments and production design to focus and convey the film’s themes. Smoke fades in and out of the foreground, while gears constantly grind in the foreground and background conveying the passage of time as well as its suspension throughout. Whereas most 3D movie’s exist for the 3D, here it’s but a tool to convey the main conceit of actually sharing another person’s dream.

In essence, Hugo is the perfect movie and everything that a movie should be. Not only that, but it’s the type of the movie that’s desperately needed in the current climate of dark, edgy and ambiguous fare. I understand that there’s a place for all of that, but I also feel that without the innocence of movies like Hugo we’re losing a necessary balance. Don’t confuse it as being a kid’s movie either (which it’s sadly mis-marketed as) because that only limits what it’s capable of. It’s a staggering culmination of heart, message and flawlessly rendered artistic expression that’s impossible to watch without being affected in some form or another. Be it the subtle performances, wildly breathtaking visuals or its rapturous passion, Hugo is a movie that shouldn’t be missed. It’s a movie for people who can’t live or breathe without film, and in relating the story of Hugo/Melies to his own story of inspiration and purpose, Scorsese has truly given us a rare and pure gift.

Further Reading: 10 Classic Films To Watch Before (Or With) Hugo

Crome Rating: 5/5