Although Scorsese has directed over 50 titles, as a children’s film his new release, Hugo, stands out among a back-catalogue of serious often gritty films. The first big screen feature since Shutter Island, Hugo is based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

When clockmaker and general handyman, Jude Law suddenly dies in a fire, young motherless Hugo is left in the care of his drunken and cruel, Uncle Clyde (an almost unrecognisable Ray Winstone). The automaton Hugo’s father was working on becomes his prize possession and the key to finding the message he suspects his father wanted to send him.

Banned by his uncle from attending school, Hugo lives and works in forgotten apartments originally designed for station workers. When his uncle goes missing, rather than face the orphanage, Hugo continues to ensure all the station clocks run accurately. As a means of escaping his own loneliness, Hugo enjoys watching the daily interactions of the station regulars.

One such member of the station community is Isabelle, delightfully played by Chloe Mortez. In a more innocent role than those she’s more famously tackled, Mortez is the adopted daughter of the toymaker Hugo steals from. After her parents died when she was a child, she’s taken in by her mysterious Godparents and given a heart-shaped key that unexpectedly fits Hugo’s automaton, prompting the beginning of their adventure through time to fix the present.

Hugo’s own sense of adventure perfectly complements Isabelle’s romanticism as he authoritatively explains: “Getting into trouble is how you know it’s an adventure” and she gleefully exclaims: “Splendid… This might be an adventure and I’ve never had one before!” While Hugo’s struggled to survive since his father’s death, Isabelle is unfamiliar with hardship having merely experienced it through the literature she reads: “Neverland, Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped into one…I feel just like Jean Valjean.”

Supporting the child leads are a strong cast of acting greats, including a stern Ben Kingsley as Isabelle’s carer and Christopher Lee as a mysterious but kindly bookshop owner. Sacha Baron Cohen manages to sympathetically play a comical policeman with a leg brace who rather embarrassingly attempts to chat-up flower girl Lisette (Emily Mortimer). Amusing cameos also come from Frances de la Tour as Madame Emilie and Richard Griffiths as Monsieur Frick who have a charming canine love affair.

Scorsese begins Hugo with a mesmerizing sequence panning back to where Hugo watches the station’s daily hustle and bustle through the clock faces. His cog-filled world is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (City Of Lost Children, Micmacs, Delicatessen) and incorporates surreal Barbarella-esque snippets and faux black and white footage. Shots panning-out illustrate how small and vulnerable Hugo is and are perfectly complemented by John Logan’s touching script.

Although Hugo is entirely set in Paris as a children’s mystery, the film is made more accessible by avoiding subtitles. Slapstick scenes involving Sacha Baron Cohen combine with serious philosophical ponderings about the purpose of life. Although perhaps a tad too long for the average child,  Hugo honestly reflects an adult take on childhood (“There are things you’re too young to understand”) and recreates innocent child-like wonder.

Through Hugo and his father’s love of film, Scorsese pays homage to film history and early special effects. Jokingly reflecting “Happy endings only happen in the movies”, Scorsese isn’t afraid to follow this cliché, neatly concluding by giving us the ending we crave.

Score: 4/5

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: John Logan, Brian Selznick

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Mortez, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCory, Frances de la Tour, Jude Law,  Richard Griffiths

DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: April 2 2012

Review by: Leo Owen


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