Hugo is two wonderful stories fused together, that is both the film’s strength and weakness.
Living in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) possesses a broken automaton left to him by his deceased father. He tries to mend it using parts he steals from around the station.
He thinks the machine contains a message from his father. Accompanied by his friend Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the god-daughter of a grumpy toyshop owner (Ben Kingsley), Hugo tries to solve the mystery of the automaton and hopefully discover his ‘purpose’.
The main story that enfolds within the first act is pretty good. From the beginning we can see that Hugo is grieving his father so we can empathize with him as he embarks on his quest to complete the automaton and find the last link he has with his parent.
When Hugo and Isabelle fix the automaton, the machine draws a picture of the moon with a rocket stuck in its face. This leads them to Georges Mêliés, Isabelle’s godfather. It’s revealed that the picture is actually of a frame from one of Georges’ films (A Trip To The Moon). They discover that Georges was a film-maker in the early 20th century and made hundreds of films.
This is where the second story starts which is also great, it’s a loving tribute to the genesis of cinema, but it kills the narrative drive of the first story. After that Hugo goes on a journey to find his purpose. This feels like the start of another film.
If I had to describe the overall theme of Hugo I’d have to say it concerns the search for purpose because that’s what the rest of the film is about, which makes the first act and a half feel disjointed.
Narrative wise Hugo is flawed but the presentation is where its really strong.
The cinematography is beautiful. Definitely one of Scorsese’s greatest skills as a director. Combined with the score they express the world and mood perfectly. There were many parts which reminded me of Amélie. Besides the fact that both films are set in Paris the bright colour palettes look very similar.
Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz deliver some great performances for child actors. From Asa’s portrayal we can see that Hugo is lonely, depressed but also smart and has a warm, welcoming personality. Chloë, while her character isn’t as interesting as Hugo, is still quirky and enthusiastic as Isabelle.
I was worried when I saw that Sacha Baron Coen was in the film. I didn’t think he was particularly funny as Ali G or Borat so I was scared he was going to bring a similar racy sense of humour. To my surprise he was also good. A lot of reviewers have said his performance has a Jacques Tati element and I agree. He’s amusing and at times empathetic as the station inspector
Oh, and Ben Kingsley is brilliant.
Overall despite its split narrative Hugo is a good, compelling fantasy drama with memorable visuals and great performances. If it was about one story it would’ve been much better, especially if the subplots with the station inspector and the dog owners were cut out.
In conclusion I give Hugo a respectful 7 out of 10.