By Matthew Dougherty , Staff Writer
There is a quote early on in Hugo where a character describes their first experience at the movies. He says it was like "dreaming during the day." Martin Scorsese has had a long, successful career of directing films but Hugo marks something new for the legendary filmmaker. Forget Taxi Driver. Forget Raging Bull. Forget The Departed. Hugo departs from the usual violent fare that Scorsese is known for and creates something entirely unique: a children's film that is gorgeously filmed and also serves as a tribute to the history of cinema.
First off, the cast is brilliant. Asa Butterfield proves that he can lead a movie at this young age as the delightfully innocent Hugo Cabret. Chloe Grace Morentz is wonderful as Hugo's sidekick of sorts. She reminded me of a younger Emma Watson in the early Harry Potter movies. Ben Kingsley and Helen McCrory are also great and make for great characters to watch embrace their history. Another standout performance comes from Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays the head of security at the train station Hugo lives at. He is the villain of sorts in the film but he is also often quite funny and likable.
However, a large chunk of the appeal of Hugo comes from its innovative visual style. The cinematography here is absolutely stunning. Every shot is filled with many thematic layers that enhance what I suspect many thought would be a simple kid's movie. The art direction is another beautiful aspect of this film. Scenes outside of the train station have a moody dusting of snow, while the interior of the train station is a lively place full of fascinating architecture. No matter what the camera is focusing on there is always some extraneous detail in the background to marvel at. Also if you can see it in 3D, Scorsese isn't messing around with the technology and produces one of the best live action 3D features to date.
Hugo‘s plot starts off as a mystery about Hugo trying to find all the pieces of a robot type object that has a message from his father. Sadly the plot does not solve all of the mysteries it presents and the answers we do get aren't necessarily what one might consider exciting. This unfortunately made the ending a tad unsatisfying even though all the characters get a proper ending. But as a whole the story Scorsese tells will still delight you, just don't expect to have every question answered.
Although when the plot does falter Hugo maintains fascinating as it presents a love for cinema that only a truly passionate person could present on the screen. This is by far the best treat that the film has to offer. Scorsese will have you believing that the early days of cinema are easily its best. Movies are the stuff that dreams are made of, which is why we flock to them, especially in the current economic crisis where people need their dreams more than ever. What Hugo achieves is examining what makes film art while being incredibly artistic. This blend makes for one incredibly self aware piece of art. But while it does this, the film never comes off as pretentious as a lot other movies typically do this time of year. Hugo is fun and deep at the same time. It is a movie for kids and film buffs.
Despite a few shortcomings in the film's plot, Hugo is an immediate classic and a one of Scorsese's best films. Everyone will find something to love in this charming family movie. If you have kids or any interest in cinema whatsoever go treat yourself to Hugo, it is one of the best films of the year and may even be a surprise come Oscar season. Sweet dreams. (**** out of 4)