February, 2012, Drama



Sporting 11 Oscar Nominations and a bevy of lesser kudos, this enchanting meditation on the history (and importance) of movies comes from director Martin Scorsese, who takes a break from the formulaic trend of his more recent efforts, (The Departed, Shutter Island, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). In a complete change of pace, he provides this intriguing examination early movie-making, captured by novelist Brian Selznick’s in his best seller “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”  Resplendent with technical genius and suffused with the director’s obvious passion for film, Hugo accomplishes what few recent films have been capable of - - offering genuine surprises. Although overlong and overly committed to the comedic antics of a minor character played by Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugo demonstrates that Scorsese’s skills not only involve brilliant storytelling, but also a maestro’s skills in every aspect of film-making-sound, score, set design, costuming – this movie is a compendium of the ingredients which go into great storytelling.

 Set in Paris in the early 30’s, Hugo follows the exploits of a young boy of that name as he tries to understand the meaning of his father’s death and the smoldering anger of George Méliés, (Ben Kingsley) an aging shop owner in the city’s massive train station.  Hugo lives in the rafters and bowels of this huge edifice, trained by his recently deceased uncle to keep the station’s clocks on time and functioning properly.

 When Hugo runs afoul of the gendarme responsible for rounding up vagrants in the station, he’s rescued by Kingsley’s granddaughter Isabelle who mediates tensions between her gruff relative and the quiet, rather secretive boy who sneaks her into a movie theater for her first taste of cinema.

 As Hugo’s leisurely-structured plot unwinds, it develops that Méliés was, in his younger days, a pioneer in early filmmaking who’s grown weary and defeated by the evolution of a creative medium he believes has passed him by. Working with a local professor of film history who has a copy of one of Méliés’ best known works, Isabelle and Hugo bring the embittered man back into the spotlight and in passing give Scorsese’s audience an intimate look into the earliest days of motion pictures, coupled with a glimpse into the unique combination of technical wizardry and thematic exposition that make movies what historian Gary Wills calls “America’s unique art form”.

 Of the film’s many Oscar nominations, none go to members of the cast – while many are excellent and the remainder perfectly adequate, Scorsese isn’t interested here in laying bare the psyches of his characters - - this is a modern fairytale and its princesses, princes & villains are stock characters so perfectly staged and presented they don’t require in-depth analysis.

  If there are any serious film buffs who harbor any skepticism about Scorsese’s place in the pantheon of film directors, this film removes all doubt; genius abounds in Hugo, from its mysterious beginnings to its near mystical end. Every element is perfectly framed, paced and neatly tied to what precedes and follows it. Audiences will thrill to this achievement long after it completes its theatrical release. (The film was shot in 3-D but that technology isn’t crucial to the film’s enjoyment.)

 Despite the enchanted results Scorsese achieved, this film doesn’t promise to be a blockbuster; it’s too sophisticated and leisurely to interest children and a bit too narrowly focused on the process of film-making to appeal to a wide commercial audience. The director’s obvious affection for his subject matter results in an overly-long film which has none of the director’s typical compulsion to frenetic pacing; Hugo simply invites you to sit back and become immersed in a wonderful fantasy - - and those who take the time to experience this unique movie won’t be disappointed.

 The Verdict? An instant classic.

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