What do films about Italian-American lineage, mafia violence and noir have in common with family films about precocious, abandoned children? Well…nothing, to the best of our knowledge. But that hasn't stopped legendary director Martin Scorsese from taking a left turn into the genre of family drama and creating Hugo, his latest filmic masterpiece.
Ostensibly a family drama, but in actuality a love song to the craft of filmmaking, Hugo revolves around a precocious orphan (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the walls of the Gare Montmarte train station in early 20th century Paris, tending to its clocks in the manner taught to him by his deceased father (Jude Law). A chance encounter with sullen toymaker Papa George (Ben Kingsley) leads Hugo to explore the link between his father, the toymaker, and the mysterious automaton that he has been working on since his father's demise.
Those expecting a traditional narrative are likely to find the movie a test of their patience, as Scorsese not only pays homage to the films of yesteryear, but also adopts the more sedate pacing one would expect of that period. Hugo is replete with the same innocence typical of movies from that era: the film is set in Paris, but a Paris that borders on the magical, re-imagined with the breathtaking innocence of childhood. Under Scorsese's masterful hand, the film is suffused with a melancholy golden lighting, breathtaking set pieces from a bygone age, and pristine imagery that borders on the surreal. If nothing else, viewers will be hard-pressed to find a more beautifully crafted film.
The characters are painted in broad, Dickensian strokes, and the casting is immaculate. Sacha Baron Cohen brings both his trademark buffoonery and an atypical sensitivity to the character of the Station Inspector, while Christopher Lee lends his gravitas to his brief role as the Librarian. The main cast is – for want of a better word – pitch perfect, and none more so than Asa Butterfield as the wary, winsome Hugo Cabret.
Those expecting a regular family movie may find themselves disappointed at the film's sedate pacing and focus on world-building, although the film does possess enough visual charm to sate children with shorter attention spans. At its heart though, Hugo is a story about stories, a homage to film and those who find joy in creation.
Extras: Making of with five behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Film: 4.5/5 Extras: 4 stars