Don’t watch the trailer first – if there is one piece of advice I could give regarding the movie “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s latest foray in cinema, it’s that the trailer just sucks. It appears that the trailer is marketing a film filled with cheap inspiration and whimsical nothingness. But “Hugo” is a movie with considerable depth that pays homage to Scorsese’s first love – movies.
Hugo is the story of a boy who is passionate about machines. He was trained by his Father to fix gears, and build anything that could be crafted by human hands. Hugo lives in a train station, constantly working the clocks and keeping time. Along the way, he is fixing a rather mysterious looking automaton. The only thing missing is a heart shaped key.
Though “Hugo” is great on its own, your appreciation for the film will only deepen if you know a few facts about its director. Scorsese was raised in Little Italy in New York. As a boy, he was rather limited to physical activity by his asthma, which led to many outings with his Father to the movies. Though he dabbled in training for the Catholic Priesthood, he ultimately would find his calling as a filmmaker. As a filmmaker, he is not only responsible for some of the most brilliant films ever made (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, etc, etc), he is dedicated to the gospel of film. He is a head of a film preservation group that finds older films and restores them so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Film preservation and the beauty of cinema itself are a key component to the film. The film also caught me off guard in its ability to be convicting. I admit cringing at some of the lines (“Let’s go on an adventure!”) only to be knocked on my back when a character discusses how soldiers exposed to war became “realists” who no longer appreciated dreams and fantasy that film can project. It was a direct attack on my personal cynicism, as well as the cynicism much of the world currently seems steeped in thanks to the current political climate. The same character states he is unapologetically dedicated to the past and what made it so great. It was generally convicting.
Additionally, “Hugo” has one scene that more than any other book or film outlines the concept of “purpose” in ones life through a completely genius metaphor. It is genius in its coherency, and genius in its simplicity. The themes and ideas pick up as the film moves on, but the film caught me off guard in its heartfelt approach.
Though “Hugo” has Scorsese's touch on it, it had me thinking of other films. Jeanne Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) must be blushing at the production design, which is exquisite in its detail. Also coming to mind was “The Polar Express” and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” with how the snow fell beautifully and crisply in each idyllic scene. Scorsese also wastes no time showing his technical mastery of the camera, with a fantastic opening shot, and the film frames its every image beautifully and intentionally.
Acting is uniformly solid. Chloe Grace Moretz continues to be an actress to watch. Though she typically plays very hard edged characters (Let Me In, Kick-Ass), here she played sweet and wide-eyed. It’s also nice to see Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) in the hands of another great director in Scorsese after his amusing turn in Tim Burton’s “Sweeny Todd.”
While i loved the film overall, it certainly isn't without its flaws. The front half of the film tested my patience. Some of the scenes were just a tad too cheesy – whether it was a line of dialogue here or there, or just a tad too much “wonderment” acting, where everything happening caused eyes to get wide, or tears to get stuck behind an actors eyes. It’s also a film that at times lacks good focus. There are a lot of characters, subplots, and details that seem to distract a bit from the overall narrative focus.
Still, the second half will likely wrap you up no matter how long the front half feels. This is a beautiful film, with a great story and an unapologetic devotion to movies. I suspect that it’s the kind of film creative types will especially enjoy. Consider it the anti “8½.” In that film, we have someone who stops creating because he is emotionally bankrupt. In “Hugo,” there is no shortage of creative energy or tolerance for cynical hearts.