Monday, 26 March 2012

Hugo (2011): Review

 Hugo is a 2011 3D film adapted from Brian Selznick's 2007 book The invention of Hugo Cabret. Directed by Martin Scorcese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) and starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-ass, Let Me In), Ben Kingsley (Ghandi) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G Indahouse, Borat). The film is set in 1930s Paris and incorporates the real life story of cinema pioneer Georges Melies.

The film follows the story of Hugo Cabret (Butterfield), a young orphan who lives within the walls of the train station Gare Montparnasse, fixing clocks and stealing to eat. Hugo runs into a spot of bother with local shop owner Georges Melies (Kingsley) resulting in his prized sketchbook, belonging to his late father, being confiscated by the grumpy shop keep. In his quest to retrieve the notebook, Hugo befriends Melies God-daughter Isabelle (Moretz) who agrees to help. It is revealed that the notebook contains the knowledge to operate Hugo's automaton (a kind of mechanical robot) which was previously owned by his father. However the quest to repair the robot soon leads to a larger voyage of discovery into the origins of cinema, as the pair discover Melies true identity and attempt to restore his faith in the power of film.

In Hugo, Scorcese creates a vivid and charming world for his characters to inhabit. Even though the film is technically set in 1930s Paris it has a universal and ambiguous nature to it,  which defies any constrictions that could otherwise apply to a period piece. The film is a love letter not only to vintage cinema but also to a simpler time when things were mechanical in nature, this can be seen through clocks, cogs and springs in nearly every scene. As well as the actual footage from early 20th century films, there are also neat references within the story to scenes from Harold Lloyd's Safety Last (1923) and Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896). Hugo is very much a film of two halves, the quest to repair the automaton and the birth of cinema, I favour the latter half as it has a real non linear and experimental feel to it as well as being thoroughly educational.

There is much debate as to whether Hugo is a kid's film. On the surface it has the look and feel of a film squarely aimed at children, but the themes, references and lengthy runtime suggest otherwise. It's fairer to say that this is a film with much more of a mass appeal. Whether it be the nerdy film references, the adventurous feel, Kingsley's emotional core or Baron Cohen's excellent comic relief, there is truly something for everyone here. Having said that, for me just over two hours was an unnecessarily long running time and I felt the first act took far too long to get going, ultimately stunting the momentum of the overall film. Great performances from Kingsley and Baron Cohen are contrasted by weak central performances from Butterfield and the usually consistent Moretz. It's possible that their delivery of the dialogue was intended to be slightly wooden as a nod to the actors of the day but even so, this didn't work and the scenes involving just the two main characters (of which there are many) suffer for it.

 Overall, Hugo is a magical and engaging film which will appeal to all ages and film tastes. I didn't view the film in 3D, but if you're into that sort of thing I'm sure that will  enhance the experience. Scorcese has created an involving family adventure film whilst also paying homage to the loves of his own childhood which will surely entertain 21st century kids and ageing film geeks alike.

4 Stars ****

What did you think of Hugo? Do you think it's exclusively a kids film?


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