Brian Selznick's award-winning children's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was written and illustrated like a detailed recipe for a visual cinematic feast. It makes sense that a director like Martin Scorsese, whose heart is actually a film projector, would pick it up, seeing that its beauty isn't only skin deep. Hugo isn't just a sad orphan story--it's also a testament to the power of believing in dreams both on and off the silver screen, which makes it a welcome addition to the holiday onslaught of Things to See in Order to Escape Your Family During the Holidays.
The film depends on its title character to carry the film on his little orphan back. Thankfully, the 14-year-old Asa Butterfield is a phenomenally good actor, saying more by blinking those huge baby blues than most actors could during a whole monologue. His performance is so realistic that it helped keep me on board with the film, even when I found the first half a little tedious.
The setup kept me teetering on the brink of buying into it versus recommending people just eat a baguette while wearing fingerless gloves to get the same effect. When we first meet Hugo we have to learn how hard his life is--in the book, I was transfixed, but here it seemed a little much. After Hugo's father died in a fire, his drunkle (drunk + uncle) took him on as an apprentice and taught him how to wind clocks at the train station. Then he stumbled off, leaving Hugo no choice but to wind the station clocks himself and avoid the orphan-hating station inspector (played marvelously by Sacha Baron Cohen, who seems born to play the role). All he has left to remind him of his father and keep him company is the automaton, a human-like machine that requires an enormous amount of repair before it can write the message it was made to create. In the hopes of fixing it, he steals parts from Georges, the man who runs the toy shop (Ben Kingsley), but gets caught and loses his father's notebook to Georges in the process. It's truly a hard knock life for Hugo.
Once all that's out of the way, the real movie begins. Hugo and Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) embark on a journey to figure out why Georges seems so averse to the existence of the automaton (aside from the fact that robots are obviously creepy). Together they have an intriguing adventure, finding pictures in wardrobes and sneaking into cinemas. The two kids burrow deep into the rich world that Scorsese and his legendary team created straight of Selznick's book. The best part is, although computers were used, the gorgeous sets are mostly real. Watching the movie and surrendering to it matches the journey that characters in the movie are going through--dreams have a way of bubbling to the surface because they are pure expressions of the human spirit. It's so much more fulfilling to embrace them.
Although the subject matter seems more suited to children, it's the adults that are really going to love this one. We get a film lesson from Marty that has more panache than a documentary, and a sweet story that includes plenty of great moments from fantastic performers. Although it tested my faith a little bit, I ended up submitting to its charm.