‘Hugo’ is spectacular storytelling

Article Published: Dec. 8, 2011 | Modified: Dec. 8, 2011
‘Hugo’ is spectacular storytelling

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz star in 'Hugo.'

Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is proof that magic exists.

It’s the celebrated director’s most personal film to date, a love letter to cinema enveloped in beautiful storytelling, reminding us why we go to the movies in the first place.

Mesmerizing cinematography and memorable performances deliver a magical atmosphere that’s as immersive as it is compelling, but “Hugo” is also a stunning technical achievement for Scorsese, whose use of 3-D serves to enhance, rather than distract.

It’s not 3-D for the sake of being 3-D, and its complementary use is refreshing, tying in nicely with the director’s underlying message.

Based on Brian Selznick’s novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” Scorsese’s adaptation tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan in 1930s Paris who’s taken to living in the walls of a train station.
Snatching croissants and other necessities, he must always remain one step ahead of an awkward, but dogged, station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen, TV’s “Da Ali G Show”), while also nabbing mechanical parts from toy builder and shop owner Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley, “Gandhi”).

In the station clock tower, Hugo’s attempting to reassemble an automaton, a mechanical person used for magic acts and sideshows. He believes the machine might bear a message from his late father (Jude Law, “Sherlock Holmes”), a clockmaker who taught him the trade.

But when Georges catches Hugo red handed, he confiscates the boy’s belongings and realizes he’s no ordinary thief. He offers Hugo the chance to pay off his debt by working in the shop, where he meets Georges’ goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, “Kick-Ass”).

Hugo and Isabelle – an avid reader – become fast friends, with the latter yearning for adventure like what she’s read on the page. Unraveling the automaton’s secrets is the perfect opportunity, but, like clockwork, their actions set in motion a series of events that leads to a mystery of grand proportions – one with the potential to change Hugo and all those around him.

The story sounds simple enough, but Scorsese’s picture is one with purpose. To tell any more would ruin its bag of wonderful surprises, the best of which (no spoilers attached) is the film itself.

The trailer looks less than compelling, as if Scorsese decided to cash in with a 3-D kids movie. While there’s plenty for kids to enjoy, “Hugo” is a movie for people – of all ages – who love movies. And Scorsese’s enthusiasm is contagious.

The casting is impeccable, with Butterfield and Moretz giving child actors a good name, while Kingsley delivers one of his most heartfelt performances since “Gandhi.”

As the accident-prone station inspector, Cohen respectfully channels Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau of “Pink Panther” fame, and Christopher Lee (“The Lord of the Rings”), Emily Mortimer (“Our Idiot Brother”) and “Harry Potter” alumni Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths round out the cast of supporting – but equally important – characters.

And aside from an all-too-fitting cameo, Scorsese plays a larger role, that of the storyteller. Other directors could tell this tale, but in “Hugo,” it seems as if he’s lived it.

“Hugo,” rated PG for mild thematic material, some action, peril and smoking, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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