by Tim Ross
There’s a saying that goes something like this: When I am an old person, I will wear purple – the idea being one of the benefits of age is living as you’d like without worrying about what others think. “Hugo” may just be long-time director Martin Scorsese’s purple.
The film, based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, plays like a deeply personal love note from Scorsese – an homage to the craft of filmmaking.
“Hugo” has little trace of overt attempts at commercial appeal and feels like a movie Scorsese had to make, wanted to make and, perhaps, waited to make since he was a little boy being amazed by films.
Unfortunately, this story of an orphan who maintains the clockworks in a Paris train station in the 1930s doesn’t move along quite as efficiently as, well, clockwork. “Hugo” is luscious in color, sound and production values but there are many moments time seems to slow unnecessarily and, once again, the addition of 3-D disappoints (although my sons, also in attendance, did grab at falling snow once or twice). Or maybe it seems that way after decades of gritty, violent, staccato Scorcese films.
If Scorsese’s latest offering does fail to capture modern audiences, it won’t be due to the acting or basic premise. Hugo, played with wide-eyed innocence by Asa Butterfield, is a boy in search of his identity. After his father (Jude Law) dies unexpectedly, Hugo is raised, or more accurately indentured, by his uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) to live at a large Paris train station and maintain its extensive clockworks.
Claude soon disappears and Hugo scratches out an existence by stealing food, keeping the clocks working and watching others’ lives play out as he peers through the faces of the clocks. His only companion is a mechanical robot that he and his father found and tried to fix. When Hugo is caught stealing by Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), the aging owner of a toy booth, the two establish a strange relationship.
Méliès is the guardian of young Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who befriends Hugo. Soon, Hugo, Isabelle, Georges and his wife Jeanne (Helen McCrory) are caught up in a rediscovery of a past Georges tried to bury and find they are all linked by the little metal robot and a love of film.
Hugo is a person trying to find meaning in his existence and so is everyone in the tale, which includes supporting performances by Sacha Baron Cohen and Christopher Lee. Moretz, last seen by a mass audience as Hit Girl in the cult hit “Kick-Ass,” is an emerging star and her chemistry with Butterfield is apparent. Kingsley is always a joy to watch and Cohen turns in a subtle (especially if you’ve only seen is work in “Borat,” “Brüno” or “Da Ali G Show”) performance as a misguided station guard.
In the end, this is Scorsese’s film, his labor of love and his attempt to break out of his comfort zone. He does so mostly with success, but not without the clock skipping a beat or two.
Grade: 2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures