Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Produced by: Johnny Depp
Screenplay by: John Logan
Based on: The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Starring: Asa Butterfield
Chloe Grace Moretz
Sacha Baron Cohen
Francis de la Tour
Music by: Howard Shore
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Editing by: Thelma Schoonmaker
Studio(s): GK Films
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures (United States)
Entertainment Film Distributors (United Kingdom)
Release date(s): November 23, 2011 (United States)
December 2, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 126 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $150 million (approx.)
Box office revenue (as of publication): $52, 618, 914
Updates, updates, updates. So, in the wake of it being that time of year, and my buying my gifts for everyone on the 26th (hey, unemployed student living at home: i'm not minted you know!) has led to a number of new purchases. Along with my copies of The Way Back and Stake Land, I have acquired Source Code and 13 Assassins (finally), so expect reviews for them. Also, I can guarantee next month a review for The Artist: being a fan of silent cinema, this is more or less essential viewing, so here's a proposal: if I don't keep my word on seeing The Artist, I quit as a reviewer! No, really, I mean it, how many times have I made promises I don't follow through with? With my professional (a bit rich using that term, I know) reputation at stake, I know I will definitely go and see it, so keep your eyes posted!
So, the film up for dissection here is Martin Scorsese's latest picture Hugo. As same of you may know, one of my regular readers asked me to review Shutter Island last year, and I didn't get down to it but managed to see it to ensure it's consideration in my best and worst films of 2010. Now, I will be writing a full review at some point, but in short I think that it is the best thing he has done since Goodfellas, and sees Scorsese venturing successfully into uncharted waters. In the case of Hugo, I get the impression that Scorsese is bored with making conventional films, for once again he enters unexplored territory, this being his first 3D film. If I'm truly honest, I must say that I have a testy relationship with 3D film's. The only trump card in the argument for 3D's artistic prowess is Avatar, for the only other time I have genuinely enjoyed 3D in a film was it's use as a novelty/gimmick in Final Destination 5. There are so many movies, such as Toy Story 3 and this year's final Harry Potter film which prove that less is more, and that 3D is, for the most part, an unnecessary eyesore. But, 3D or no 3D, there is still a story and film to discuss: in 1931, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of a train station, stealing food and parts for the automaton he is attempting to repair, all the while attempting to avoid the gaze of Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), the station's Inspector. However, Hugo is caught by toy-shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley), and, while developing a friendship with his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), works for him in order to regain the notebook Georges has taken from him.
Taking into account that it is a 3D film, I saw it in 2D, so this is a review that correlates specifically for the 2D version. To start off, it is a visually gorgeous film. Cinematographer Robert Richardson and editor Thelma Schoonmaker's teamwork is a tremendous example of technical synchronicity, from the amazing opening series of shots into the train station that flow into one another to the final frame. Also, the film has perhaps the best mise-en-scene I have seen in a film this year. Someone (to my shame I forget who and couldn't find out through research) once said regarding the sets for Scorsese's for Gangs Of New York that we'll never see production design like this anymore. I would have agreed, but after seeing Hugo it seems that Dante Ferretti has said an emphatic 'NO!' to this statement. Ferretti has most certainly equalled his work on Gangs Of New York, particularly with the brilliantly imagined train station, its colour palette both realistic and like something, well, beautifully cinematic and hyperreal. Also, the walls of the station are intensely detailed and layered, so it is as though we are following Hugo through the pipes, ducts and clocks, obviously a metaphor for the intricacies of the human brain. Another aspect of note in the film's mise-en-scene is the costume design and make-up, which help transform the film's actors into characters that believably inhabit the film's time-space of Paris 1931. Considering all of the roles that these actors have previously played (Butterfield, the son of a prominent Nazi in The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas, Kingsley, Ghandi, Moretz, Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ali G, Borat, Bruno et al), it is a serious plus that you can buy them as a homeless urchin, an elderly toy maker, a well-off young girl and an eccentric security guard respectively. Speaking of which, these actors all give fine performances. Butterfield anchors this film, delivering a performance that ensures a likability in a lead role that could have been irritating. Also, Moretz (a 'Thin White Dude' award winner) is ever reliable, and Sacha Baron Cohen delivers a batty performance that matches his meticulously chameleonic previous efforts, utterly slithering about in a role that is as funny as it is at turns surprisingly moving. Christopher Lee also graces the film with his presence, and Ray Winstone (recognisable in voice only) delivers a good bit part. However, the film's best performance is definitely that of Ben Kingsley as Georges. Kingsley is at an interesting stage of his career, because for a number of years he has been playing these really overt, scenery-chewing roles that threaten to implode both his and everyone else' in a given film. 2008 though, with his generous, naturalistic performances in Transsiberian and Fifty Dead Men Walking, marked a turning point, for he seemed to understand this, and thus, his work from then has been positive, benefiting himself and others in this reviewer's eyes. One occasionally forgets he is Shutter Island that he is so subdued. In Hugo, 'Papa' Georges is the consummation of this period of transition. Kingsley depicts all of the layers of this secretive character with great understanding. Georges is a grumpy and often intimidating old miser, but we also detect an intense sadness in Georges, who is at heart, just like Hugo, a dreamer. Never at any point do we question Kingsley as Georges, and he gives us an onscreen character to both adore and be afraid of. Finally, much of the film's triumph and control comes from the man himself, Martin Scorsese. Along with Clint Eastwood, he is a reminder of everything that is good about Hollywood cinema. Scorsese, like Columbus, is unafraid to explore uncharted waters, and is constantly coming up with new challenges for himself as a filmmaker, and once again, he breaks through to the other side and triumphs. Despite having new toys to play around with, he thinks of his audience, never one to overindulge himself. The control he exhibits here, over a picture that is both unlike and similar to his back catalogue, is nothing short of amazing: let's see any other director make two films as different as Taxi Driver and Hugo! Also, while he is of course paying tribute to cinema, Scorsese is first and foremost a storyteller, engaging the audience and with Hugo, delivering us a picture that slots itself firmly into his great filmography.
As you can see, there was a lot that I liked about Hugo. However, there is one notable flaw that, while certainly not detracting from it's status as a great film, bars Hugo at the doors of The Upper Echelon Club of movie masterpieces. I am referring to, once again, the script. John Logan is a good screenwriter. After all, earlier in the year he scribed one of the year's best scripts in Rango. However, his script for Hugo, while not being a bad piece of work, is troublesome and problematic. For starters, the film's structure is seriously misjudged. My good friend Daniel Kelly (Danland Movies) made a great point on the flabbiness of the first two acts, and while I think he argued more eloquently and was irritated greater than I, it would be a lie if I said I didn't agree with him. As such, while the final act of the film is as good a bit of cinema as you're going to get, the first two acts have a sluggish pacing, which didn't bother me at first, but by the time you reach the one-hour mark and the film has gone from Point A to Point A, it starts to get annoying and boring. Also, the dialogue is by no means outstanding, and does give the film an air of contrivance, which is a shame considering how natural, well-timed and judged Rango's dialogue came across. As mentioned, this does not take away from Hugo's status as a great movie, but it does deny it the opportunity to get that bit greater.
Aside from the film's troublesome script, Hugo is a great movie. It boasts good acting performances, particularly from Ben Kingsley. Also, there is a strong technical synchronicity between Robert Richardson and Thelma Schoonmaker, which gives the film a solid visual style. Furthermore, this is one of the, if not the best mise-en-scene I have seen in a film this year, with some excellent production design, make-up and costumes. Finally, Martin Scorsese is at that stage of his career were he has seen it all, done it all, and wants to try something new. Following on from the enigmatic genre thriller Shutter Island, Hugo is Scorsese's great endeavour into the medium of 3D cinema and stands as a good, traditional kid's adventure film. Daniel Kelly, in his own words, told me if he was a kid taken to see this movie he "would have a shitfit," referring to it's laborious pacing. Although I think it is an occasionally badly paced film, I'd like to think that one of my cousins would appreciate this fine film as opposed to trying to convert me to the Transformers cause. Words of advice: take your kids to see Hugo, because I have a hunch that they'd love a kid's movie that treats them with respect and does not patronise them. It's easy for me to jabber on about this being 'a great kid's movie,' but the fact is I'm not a kid. Please, take them to see Hugo, and I hope they enjoy the film as much as I did.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Content (Uni work and Reviews up to date. Booyakasha! Proof you put enough beer in a man, he can do anything!)