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Written by: Sam Fragoso on January 3, 2012

January 3, 2012 | 33 comments | Featured, Old Format


Cinema is an enigma. If it was anything else, than we’d have explanations why our greatest pieces of celluloid resonate or why a film like Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless is still one of the best pictures about love, intimacy, and facing moral complexities.

In Martin Scorsese’s Hugo our protagonist adores the movies – swept away by the images and actions on screen, he can never resist the beautiful temptation.

It’s within the films exterior motives that one who enjoy the movies (like myself) could neglect the films many faults. Martin Scorsese is one of our best contemporary filmmakers today and yet his 3D directorial effort is a heavy-handed, sluggishly paced, and misguided piece of film.

Set in 1930s Paris, the story revolves around an orphan child named Hugo Cabaret who secretly lives in a train station after his caring father (played by Jude Law) passes away and his inferior uncle (Ray Winstone) leaves the country.

All alone Hugo is left with only a single remnant of his father: an automaton that was given to him shortly before his Dad’s death. So, how does little Hugo get by? Well, he scrapes together meals around the station, avoids the inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen), and often steals from a convenience store.

His day of reckoning comes when Georges Melies (the owner of the shop played by Ben Kingsley) catches him in the act of stealing. The film takes quite a bit to get going, but the first interaction between Georges and this little boy is the true beginning of the picture.

While consequences for theft ensue for Hugo, the two form a unique, if untimely friendship. Within Hugo’s notebook are drawings of his beloved automaton – that at one point and time – belonged to Georges. It is here that the film springs its grand mystery of silent cinema and a director who lost his way once sound came into form.

I won’t ruminate over the precious details of Hugo’s cinematic plotlines, but Georges was once an acclaimed comedic and dramatic director – who was inevitably forced aside by different motives of the medium. He lives mostly in regret now. Scarcely uses nostalgia as tool of glorifying his once upon a time filmmaking career. And now, well, he owns a concessions store in a train station in Paris. The transition from careers doesn’t quite add up.

Isabelle and Hugo looking at the automaton in Martin Scorsese's newest directorial effort ... "Hugo"

And frankly, neither does Hugo. The opening hour – which weaves through Hugo’s labyrinth like room and mind – was uneventful, only to be sporadically spiced with enchanting visuals. As the film proceeds relationships are formed between Hugo, Melies, and Isabelle (the daughter of Melies played by Chloe Grace Moretz).

There’s a palpable bond between the shop owner and this child who loves the movies. However, the film attempts to create a slight romance between Isabelle and Hugo: One that never quite worked for me. Sure the two go out on expeditions together and have a good time, but something about the two don’t mix.

To be candid, the same can be said for Hugo’s entirety. The protagonist is not all that captivating – and Scorsese’s storytelling is weak (granted not as horrific as Mean Streets). While we do receive a beautiful look at the early days of cinema – and it could be said that Hugo is in total a pure love letter to the movies – not much sparks with any effervescence or exuberance, wit or charm.

Which is certainly uncommon coming from Martin Scorsese. But what’s even more peculiar is that he’s made a film that doesn’t have an audience. Hugo hasn’t been crafted for children or adults. I suppose in the end Hugo is made for someone like myself – a lover of cinema. How unfortunate that I found the film to be dramatically underwhelming.

Rating: ★★☆☆


Hugo (2011)

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Brian Selznick, John Logan

Runtime: 126 minutes

Genre: mystery, fantasy, family

Trailer Hugo


There are 33 comments for this post.

  1. SJHoneywell on January 3, 2012 9:30 am

    I agree. It’s a film made for cinephiles, but cinephiles are the ones who can spot the obvious holes in it.

  2. Duke on January 3, 2012 11:11 am

    Well said Steve.

  3. NeverTooEarlyMP on January 3, 2012 3:57 pm

    Great review. I think you’re definitely right about the film not having an audience. I kept wondering whether kids especially would get bored with the second half.

  4. Duke on January 3, 2012 7:45 pm

    Thanks for reading. Nice to see you around.

  5. Ruth on January 3, 2012 9:09 pm

    Hugo’s out here in a few days. I’m going to try and go in with as an open a mind as possible, although I was reeaaallly hoping to like it. We’ll see. Great review as always!

  6. Duke on January 3, 2012 9:20 pm

    Thank Ruth …. come back to share your results.

  7. James Ward on January 3, 2012 9:33 pm

    While your opinion that “Hugo” doesn’t work is perfectly valid, writing “Hugo hasn’t been crafted for children or adults” is not valid criticism.

    How can you know if a movie “has an audience” or not? Are you a mind reader? A pollster? Essentially, you are just guessing what other people will think of the movie.

    Also, Isabelle was not Melies’ daughter. She was his ward, or foster parent.

  8. Duke on January 3, 2012 9:50 pm

    Sorry for the factual error. As for the mind reader comment … no, I’m not. I can say with near certainty that HUGO will not work for children. As for adults, I went out on a limb, but it certainly didn’t invest the people in the audience at my screening.

  9. Scott Lawlor on January 3, 2012 10:30 pm

    Interesting Article Sam.

    I still haven’t got around to seeing this. I really want to take my girls, but finding the time is getting harder these days.

    I will wait a blu ray release for viewing I think


  10. Duke on January 3, 2012 10:43 pm

    It will likely look beautiful on Blu-ray.

  11. Danny Reid on January 3, 2012 10:54 pm

    I actually loathed this one a bit more than you; it really feels like someone telling you how magical something is rather than showing it. The movie is disjointed, the kids blank bores, and the mystery inane. Boo. Boo, I say.

  12. Duke on January 3, 2012 10:59 pm

    Surprised by your response Danny. But I agree with most of your sentiments.

  13. James on January 3, 2012 11:12 pm

    How can you say with certainty children will not like the film? Do you some special mystIcal insight into children? Isn’t it enough to say you didn’t like it?

  14. Duke on January 4, 2012 1:11 am

    Show me a child that loves silent cinema? I can’t see kids liking this movie – on the level that they wont understand what’s happening or they’ll find it dull (even more dull than I did).

  15. Andrew on January 4, 2012 9:44 am

    Hugo plays off of senses of wonder and awe and works deeply with the idea of film being magical; on this basis I don’t think there’s much substance to the idea that the film won’t work for kids. If there’s any evidence to support the claim, it lies in the second half of the film, which is clearly the body of Scorsese’s cinematic love note– but even the flashback scenes to Melies working on set capture the sort of enchanting grandeur that can captivate an adult, much less a child. It’s a film about discovery, too; I think most of these elements are ones that kids can gravitate toward.

    My other major contention here is that Scorsese is being sluggish. If anything, that’s a matter of John Logan’s writing; Logan being a good writer, I can’t say I really agree, but I do see that there’s something of a disparity in the two halves of the movie, the first half entailing Hugo’s quest to discover the truth of the automaton his father left for him and the second detailing his mission to bring Melies back to prominence. The approach to the former is odd; objectively, it feels like the only reason the mystery of the automaton takes so long to solve is because the film is “holding back”.

    The reason this isn’t problematic in the grand scheme of the film is that the automaton is something of a MacGuffin, or more accurately just a general red herring. It only exists to drive the plot forward to the point of Hugo learning about Melies. And ultimately Scorsese’s directing bridges the two sections of the film together; he’s so good at cinematic narrative storytelling that the disjointed nature of Hugo‘s two halves never really matters. This is a film about how we’re swept away by the movies, which achieves that end by sweeping us away itself.

  16. Duke on January 4, 2012 9:55 am

    I understand the film is about recovery, but I can’t see children liking the film – especially (like you mentioned) in the back half. Logan’s writing is sluggish, and Scorsese’s direction does nothing to alter the script. He’s a master of the narrative – I agree with you there – but not with Hugo.

    In the end the film didn’t “sweep” me away. But I’m truly glad it did for you.

  17. Dan O. on January 4, 2012 10:11 am

    The movie itself runs a bit long at 127 minutes, but Hugo is worth every minute for the visual feast it provides, and features Scorsese in probably his most delightful and elegant mood ever, especially with all of the beautiful 3-D. Good review Duke.

  18. Duke on January 4, 2012 3:57 pm

    So I take it you liked the film?

  19. Andrew on January 4, 2012 5:22 pm

    Logan’s writing is sluggish, and Scorsese’s direction does nothing to alter the script.

    Primarily, that’s the disagreement I have here. Scorsese’s direction absolutely changes the timber of the movie, I think; it feels luminous and alive, and the world he erects is so vivid and real and yet so fantastical that the flawed script kind of washes away.

  20. Duke on January 4, 2012 5:32 pm

    I only found the back half to be “luminous” and “alive” … the rest didn’t wash me away or enchant me.

  21. Castor on January 4, 2012 7:55 pm

    We are very much of the same mind on this movie Sam. This is very much a movie made for cinephile (and hence the high marks from most critics) that doesn’t really have an audience outside of film buffs. It’s marketed as a family film but kids will find this to be a massive drag and be clueless as to why Hugo is relegated to the background in the second half of the movie.

  22. Duke on January 4, 2012 8:34 pm

    I still feel Steve probably summed up me sentiments (and yours) the best. Certainly made for cinephiles – and yet we’re the ones that can catch the gaping flaws.

  23. Matt S. on January 4, 2012 11:33 pm

    Actually, all of the kids I know that saw this movie absolutely loved it, but I certainly do get where you’re coming from with that remark, Hugo fits best for the cinephile.

    However, I honestly could not disagree more. Hugo is hands down my favorite of the year, an easy full points 10/10 masterpiece. I love the book and I actually think in 10 years Hugo the movie will be even more acclaimed then it is now. While Ebert is never a critic I have agreed with consistently, his review literally echoes my complete thoughts on the film.

    Regarding Steve’s comment saying we can see the flaws, I really don’t get it. I read the book (one of the finest adaptations I’ve ever known for sure) and was opened up to the story so much more, which took away any complaints I might have of how uneven the film is or such.

    Still, you’ve brought up your points very well here Sam and I can always appreciate a well thought out review!

  24. Duke on January 4, 2012 11:35 pm

    The book sounds fascinating – I understand if you love the film, it’s a pity I don’t feel the same way.

  25. Fogsmoviereviews on January 7, 2012 2:15 pm

    I’m with you on this Sam.

    “I suppose in the end Hugo is made for someone like myself – a lover of cinema. How unfortunate that I found the film to be dramatically underwhelming.”

    Well put. Me too.

  26. Duke on January 7, 2012 3:20 pm

    Thanks for reading my friend.

  27. Ronan on January 15, 2012 12:00 pm

    ‘Martin Scorsese is one of our best contemporary filmmakers today and yet his 3D directorial effort is a heavy-handed, sluggishly paced, and misguided piece of film’. Amen to that! It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who thought Hugo was wildly over rated. Why do people connected to the film industry have a blindspot when it comes to Martin Scorcese? Yes, Scorcese has made some seminal films in his time and yes, he is rightly repsected by his peers. But come on, honeslty, I just don’t think he’s all that. I liked Raging Bull and my friend always tells me I’m crazy when I say Taxi Driver is over-rated, but I guess Scorcese just doesn’t do it for me. And everyone else making out that he is some kind of directing demi-god, well that just makes it worse! Hugo is undoubtedly an impassioned and sincere love letter to cinema but I’d have been happier with a more enjoyable movie, if I’m honest. Thanks for this Sam.

  28. Duke on January 15, 2012 2:15 pm

    While I certainly can’t agree with your sentiments of TAXI DRIVER – as it is my favorite of Scorsese’s works – RAGING BULL is a tad overrated (still strong, though).

    Nice to see someone who contains the same opinion, though.

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  30. Rachel on February 5, 2012 4:14 pm

    You were one of the first to openly dislike the film, so after seeing it this morning I had to come back to your review, since I never read any reviews before seeing a film.

    And I’m in complete agreement, particularly about the lack of an audience. I (at 30) became just as antsy as the two young girls (6 & 10, assuming) in front of me. The other adults in the theater didn’t seem quite as swept up in it either. I’ll post a review this week or next, going into detail how much I disliked the title character.

  31. Sam Fragoso on February 5, 2012 8:38 pm

    I’m looking forward to your review Rachel.

  32. Rob Schaak on March 17, 2012 4:26 pm

    It really depends on the person some kids may like it some won’t i thought it was a good film, but a little bit overrated the score was nice and the special effects. please explain to me more in depth what the exact plot holes are.

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