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.
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.