out of Five
Running time: 121
Beautifully made and superbly acted, Hugo features terrific 3D effects and stands as a charming love letter to silent cinema, but it's let down by a weak central plot and the script never quite connects on an emotional level.
What's it all about?
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Hugo is based on the book by Brian Selznick and is set in early 1930s Paris. Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo, an orphaned boy who lives within the forgotten walls and passageways of Montparnasse station and spends his days fixing and maintaining the station clocks while avoiding the child-catching Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen).
When Hugo meets adventurous, kind hearted Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), he's inspired to unlock the mystery of a mechanical automaton discovered by his late father (Jude Law), in the hopes that it will contain a message. However, the automaton instead points to Isabelle's own grouchy godfather Georges (Ben Kingsley), who turns out to be forgotten pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès; Hugo and Isabelle then attempt to rekindle his love for cinema, aided by kindly film historian Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Butterfield is excellent as Hugo and there's strong support from Moretz (utterly charming), Kingsley and particularly Helen McCrory as Madame Méliès, while Christopher Lee (as a kindly bookseller) and Jude Law are both effective in much smaller character roles. That said, Sacha Baron Cohen is slightly disappointing as the Station Inspector (you can't help wishing he'd reprised his comedy Frenchman from Talladega Nights) and the film completely wastes the likes of Emily Mortimer, Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths in under-developed roles as the station regulars.
On the plus side, the 3D effects are probably the best since Avatar and Scorsese uses them brilliantly throughout – he also displays an entirely unexpected talent for dog reaction shots. In addition, there are some wonderful film references and tributes to silent cinema, the highlight of which is an extended flashback sequence involving Méliès' workshop.
The main problem with the film is that the required elements are all present and correct, but they never gel into an emotionally satisfying whole – for example, the supporting characters are under-developed and moments that should carry emotional weight (such as Lee's character giving Hugo a book) end up meaning nothing. Ultimately, a scene where Hugo dreams he has mechanical insides ends up being more telling than intended since it stands for the film itself – beautifully constructed on the outside but ultimately lacking in heart and human connection.
Hugo is worth seeing for Scorsese's affectionate tribute to silent cinema and some stunning visual effects, but it doesn't really work as a children's movie and ultimately lacks emotional impact.