by Joan Ellis
Just go to Hugo. Martin Scorsese has created a magical movie from places beloved in books, in movies, and in reality. Movie lovers tend to love train stations, libraries, and movie houses because mysterious and wonderful things happen in all of them. These wonders abound in Scorsese’s tale. He has brought us a dream of a movie just when we need it most during the seasonal glut of dreadful movies made by filmmakers who can’t access the world of illusion. May they all take note of this masterpiece of imagining.
When 12 year old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) loses the father he loves (Jude Law), he assumes the care and repair of his dad’s broken automaton, a mechanical man of brass and silver parts and an enchanting facial expression. “I thought if I could fix it, I wouldn’t be so lonely,” he says very quietly. The boy lives behind the walls of the cavernous Paris train station where twisting passageways connect the gears, hoists, and pulleys that need tending if the huge station clocks are to keep proper time. He meets Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who offers friendship and help. When Hugo asks, “Why are you helping me?” she answers, “Because this is an adventure and I’ve never had one before.” This perfect answer sets the tone of the film. And later while picking a lock to enter a movie theater, she says, “We could get into trouble,” he answers, “That’s how you know it’s an adventure.”
And so the two dodge trouble, mostly in the form of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his fierce Doberman. They are always at risk, always just a little bit scared. When Isabelle leads Hugo to the home of her guardians Jeanne (Helen McCrory) and Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) we hope fervently that they will welcome him forever. Once a magician and illusionist, Georges became an artist/creator of silent movies until World War I made him obsolete. The connections are tightening, the adventure continues.
Asa Butterfield is perfectly withdrawn and bewildered as the lonely Hugo; Chloe Grace Moretz is a smart and willing buddy for him; Ben Kingsley brings early film legend Georges Melies to life; Helen McCrory is nuanced and right as Georges’ wife; Sacha Baron Cohen barrels over the top – in old silent film fashion – as the station inspector. They all become accomplices in Scorsese’s skillful conjuring of a sense of place.
We look out through the clock numbers at Paris glittering in its nighttime lights; we soak up the crooked corridors of the enormous dark station; we feel the loneliness in Hugo’s room under the eaves; we are overwhelmed by the wondrous silence of the library with its rows of reading tables and tall old ceilings.
Martin Scorsese’s abiding love of movies is the enduring pleasure here. He invites us into the magical world of his imagination and we follow him there with delight. Grab a pal of any age and go.