Review: HUGO (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Review: HUGO (2011)


Mention the name of Martin Scorsese, he's a legendary filmmaker who is best known for directing gangster movies as well as anything that is related to violence and dark characters (e.g. MEAN STREET, TAXI DRIVER, GOODFELLAS, CASINO, THE DEPARTED). But a children's fantasy adventure? It's really hard to believe when I first heard Scorsese was going to adapt Brian Selznick's award-winning children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret into a movie. But before you write off his first attempt to tackle such genre, let me assured you that HUGO isn't a colossal mistake he is making here. Instead the movie is somewhat heartwarming and at the same time it's perfectly understandable why Scorsese is so peculiar for tackling his first children's fantasy adventure at the first place -- Selznick's book happens to celebrate the wonders of cinema's early days -- a subject that Scorsese loves very much. In fact HUGO has been widely praised by critics as one of the finest movies Scorsese ever directed. As much as I wanted to believe so, I found the universal praise for this movie is an overstatement. HUGO is hardly a masterpiece that one might expect, but still good enough to make this movie worthwhile.

Ever since Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) loses his clockmaker father (Jude Law) who died in a fire, he is sent living with his drunken uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) in a Parisian train station during the 1930s. This is where he learns how to wind the massive clocks that run throughout the station. One day his uncle disappears but Hugo continues to live discreetly within the walls and back rooms of the station while avoiding capture from the eagle-eyed Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Hugo also has a great interest in engineering which subsequently leads him to steal gears, tools and other related items from a toy-shop owner named Georges (Ben Kingsley). Apparently he needs all the particular items to rebuild a mechanical man left in his father's care at a nearby museum.

One day Georges manages to capture Hugo when he tries to steal something from him. Georges threatens to turn him over to the Station Inspector. That's not all, Georges also snatches away Hugo's precious notebook which contains a detailed instruction on how to fix the mechanical man. At the same time, Hugo has subsequently befriended with Georges' granddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is somehow possesses the last and most important item -- the key -- that able to make the mechanical man work again.

HUGO is visually remarkable to look at. The opening scene alone is a cinematic beauty -- a swooping camerawork, which glides gracefully from the above sky and right through the train station -- is well-shot by the great Robert Richardson. Scorcese regular Thelma Schoonmaker's editing is as graceful as always, while Howard Shore's music score is simply majestic. The special effects is a true wonder here, in which Scorcese has successfully created a dreamy Paris within the train station during the winter season.

John Logan's adapted screenplay is both whimsical and heartfelt, even though there are times the narration feels choppy (particularly during its exposition-heavy halfway point). In fact the movie works better in certain parts but squanders a bit when comes to an entire whole. Speaking of certain parts, the most memorable scene in the movie is the wonderful flashback Georges telling his story about his past as an innovative creator who falls in love with cinema during the early days when he first became fascinated with THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY and subsequently succeeds as a filmmaker specializing in fantasy genre. Apart from that, Scorsese also pays loving homage to such remarkable silent-era movies including the Lumieres' ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN AT THE STATION (1896) and Georges Meiles' A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902). This alone is nevertheless a special treat for fans who loves cinema.

Acting performances, in the meantime, are overall good if not a mixed bag. Up-and-coming young actor Asa Butterfield is wonderful as Hugo, especially with his expressive and soulful blue eyes. Although he can be quite bland-looking at times, he does delivers his role just enough to earn viewer's sympathy. Chloe Grace Moretz is as graceful and charismatic as always, while her chemistry between her and Butterfield is just as lovely. Supporting actors are similarly worthwhile, with Sacha Baron Cohen channeling Peter Sellers as the harsh Station Inspector who loves to capture the parentless child like Hugo, but actually has a soft heart on his other side -- particularly in the scene where he has been nursing a crush on a cute flower girl Lisette (Emily Mortimer). If you look closely, that little romance alone between the Station Inspector and the flower girl evokes the wonderful memories of a silent-era type love story.

But of all the actors here, it is Ben Kingsley who steals the show as the aging Georges Meiles who has been grumpy and miserable the whole time especially after he has fallen from his glory days as a successful filmmaker. Kingsley is clearly in top form here, and it's nice to see him returning to memorable performance after years of forgettable roles. However, notable actors like Jude Law and Ray Winstone, are reduced into thankless roles which could have been better instead.

HUGO is far from perfect, but it's actually a refreshing change of pace from the usual fast-paced children's fantasy movie that plagued the Hollywood nowadays.

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