Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo

Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Hugo (2011)
Based on the Book By: Brian Selznick
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee and Jude Law

Hollywood has been reminded of its celebrated history more than once in recent months, with both The Artist and Martin Scorsese's Hugo at the centre of this resurgence (of sorts) of old cinema. Both films couldn't have come at a better time -- while an endless stream of forgettable movies are dropped into theatres as a quick cash-grab for studios, audiences often need to be reminded that there are filmmakers out there who love the art of cinema and continue to make great, challenging films.

Scorsese, by using the source material from Brian Selznick's graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, has crafted a love letter to the world of cinema. By jumping on the opportunity to promote his passion for film preservation and its forgotten pioneers, Scorsese has ultimately created a film for adult movie buffs in the guise of a children's adventure.

Young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan boy living behind a giant clock in a beautiful Paris train station in the 1930s. With his keen knack for stealing discarded items and fixing them, Hugo bides his time inventing little gadgets -- none of which cures his loneliness. Desperate to connect with the people he watches beyond his isolated quarters, Hugo befriends Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), an imaginative girl living in Paris with her godfather, Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley). Together, the two embark on a series of adventures involving a mysterious automaton left behind by Hugo's dead father (Jude Law), a heart-shaped key and a case of hidden identities -- all the while being chased around by a tyrannical station agent (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Hugo is, essentially, two films expertly weaved together into one. Despite numerous minor subplots and two main narrative threads, the film never loses its focus as the action slowly builds towards a beautifully moving climax reminiscent of the 1988 Italian classic, Cinema Paradiso.

With assistance from cinematographer Robert Richardson and production designer Dante Ferretti (both Scorsese regulars), Hugo is a lush and whimsical creation -- an ode to the wonder of the world of cinema that is just as wonderful itself. Arguably the most visually beautiful film of the year, Hugo wraps you in a blanket of movie passion and nostalgia.

Asa Butterfield (left) and Ben Kingsley
In the lead role, Asa Butterfield is fully capable of carrying an entire film on his small shoulders. With his expressive blue eyes and elfin features it's hard to imagine another child more suited for the role of a young orphan desperate for love and companionship. It's the rare child actor that can have both a commanding screen presence and manage to hold his own against veteran actors.

The supporting cast is equally compelling, specifically Ben Kingsley as the emotionally broken Georges Melies. His chemistry with the young Butterfield is the heart at the centre of the film. The scenes that these two lonely, broken souls share carry the emotional weight of the film. Kingsley, with his sad eyes and soft voice, gives one of his loveliest performances in years. As Isabelle, Chloe Grace Moretz is charming, despite a wavering English accent. In smaller roles, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee and Jude Law round out a solid cast with superb performances that manage to jump off the screen despite limited screen time.

Hugo is a vibrantly beautiful film, both charming and tragic. Howard Shore's score only adds to the haunting, yet whimsical, atmosphere.

Scorsese reminds that, like Rome, cinema wasn't built in a day -- there were many pioneering faces, some unfortunately long forgotten, that brought the medium to what it is today.