For decades, we have had the privilege to see the brilliant mind of Martin Scorsese through films such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Departed, but he shows us something different in his most recent effort. Hugo is a wildly imaginative ride that journeys through the history of movie-making and ultimately stops at the director’s heart, earning a place among the elite of Scorsese’s filmography.
Hugo is one of the few movies that manage to do so much at so many levels. The part-history, part-adventure, part-fantasy film may, at times, lose itself in its wild imagination, but Scorsese’s love for filmmaking and the story of Hugo keeps it together for one of the most heartfelt movies of the year. Based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the movie follows a young orphan living in a Paris railway station. He maintains the clocks in the station while looking for tools and parts to fix an automaton — a mechanical man that writes and draws pictures. Hugo goes through great lengths to repair the automaton, which he believes contains a message from his father, who died in a museum fire. He is caught stealing parts by a toy store owner, who proceeds to punish the boy by stealing his blueprint to fixing the automaton. In an effort to retrieve his father’s blueprint, Hugo reaches out to the store owner’s goddaughter, a young, eager literate girl named Isabelle (a stellar Chloe Moretz), and the two embark on a mystery-filled adventure. Asa Butterfield gives an extraordinary performance as the protagonist, driving the film with imagination, innocence and heart. After a string of terrible films, it is great to see Ben Kingsley return to form with his performance as Georges Méliès, a former magician and filmmaker that lost touch with his past.
It’s only fitting that Scorsese’s movie is screened with colorful visuals and 3D images that pop out of the screen, showcasing the evolved form of the fantasy genre that Méliès pioneered in the early 20th century. Critics constantly throw around the cliché “this is the reason we go to the movies” (and I may be guilty of that when I am feeling lazy), but Hugo goes beyond that in actually explaining why we go. Scorsese’s love letter is the kind of film that expands a child’s imagination, while rekindling that of an adult.