DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: John Logan • PRO: Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee
Martin Scorsese’s latest film tells the tale of Hugo, a young boy, who loses his father and is taken in by his alcoholic Uncle. Seeking a substitute family he starts fixing things for the mob. He soon rises through the ranks earning himself the name ‘Hit-Man Hugo’. But his life of crime eventually catches up with him as the hit man himself becomes the target of a hit.
Well, not exactly – calling to mind that scene in The Sopranos where Christopher sees Martin Scorsese and yells ‘Marty! Kundan… I loved it!’ Scorsese veers off course and tackles a children’s film in 3D. Yet if truth be told it’s more a case of him taking Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and crafting a child’s adventure story into something that’s not necessarily for children and in doing so creates something much dearer to his heart than wiseguys and psychos – the magic of film itself.
Scorsese announces himself immediately in the film’s opening scene as his camera soars majestically over Paris and swoops breathtakingly through a train station, landing upon the eyes of the film’s titular hero.
Hugo (Asa Butterfield) has become an orphan and now lives secretly in the walls, passageways and ceilings of a 1930s Parisian railway station ensuring that its clocks tick tock. When he’s not on the job, he’s playing Dickens’ Oliver stealing what he can in the station in order to survive and to continue his work fixing a writing automaton his father left him, while all the time evading the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) – a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Officer Crabtree, the British spy posing as a policeman in Allo Allo – who’s determined to round up all the pesky orphans and send them off to the police station. Boo! Hiss!
Hugo gets into trouble with the station’s crusty, ill-tempered toyshop owner (Ben Kingsley) who confiscates his notebook which contain the plans for Hugo’s work fixing the automaton. In his desperate efforts to retain it, he chances upon Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and together they set off on a magical adventure. Their initial adventure soon gives way to something more than both of them could ever have imagined and this is where the film comes into its own – extending beyond its initial narrative to become a celebration of film itself.
The film looks absolutely beautiful, thanks to the ravishing production design of Dante Ferretti, Scorsese’s legendary companion and purveyor of lavish costume and sets. Added to this is the use of 3D, which for once is integral to the storytelling. The film speaks for itself and there’s no need to go into the plot details – all the better to discover it for yourself as Hugo and Isabelle do. Their adventure is ours. Such details function to provide Scorsese with the platform to engage in this eulogy for the wonder and magical quality of film and cinema, and testifies to Scorsese’s own ongoing vocation to preserve and restore old films himself and get them projected once again onto a cinema screen. The heart-shaped key that Hugo requires to operate his automaton is unashamedly symbolic of the director’s sentiments writing this passionate love letter to cinema.
Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Hugo is released on 2nd December 2011