Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan
I am not a fan of the 3D medium, finding it to be massively ineffective and ultimately a gimmick to make a dull film flashier and sell more tickets. I hope beyond hope that it goes to a lonely place and dies, yet I fear the worst for that dream. However, I have heard great things about the 3D in this film, but alas, AMC dared not offer an a.m. showtime for the 3D, so in a money saving maneuver, I instead saw the 2D version. I must make it clear that I acted alone in my action, there were no accomplices, and most assuredly not the idea that I detest 3D. And speaking of dreams, this new film has something to do with dreaming and dreamers. Martin Scorsese’s latest, surprisingly, is a family film filled with joy, wonderment and adventure, or so it sets out to be.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfiled) is an orphaned young boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station, spending his time winding the many clocks about the establishment and in his spare time stealing things from the various businesses inside. His father (Jude Law) perished in an unfortunate museum fire and all that Hugo has to remember him by is a small mechanical man who is slightly broken. Hugo steals from one particular business, that of George (Ben Kingsley), technical parts to help fix the robot. But he must avoid the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and team with George’s young Goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to solve the mystery of the broken metal man.
I have to take the chance to applaud Scorsese for stepping out of his so-called comfort zone and directing a family film that is about magic and imagination amongst other things. I have to do this now because the rest of the review will be middling to poor in order to reflect my thoughts on the film itself. The film tries so hard to be a winner that it is kind of embarrassing really. It is fun to watch it try, and sometimes it works, but more often than not I was sitting in my seat wondering why the film was as boring and mediocre as it was. It attempts to insert the French whimsy, but only goes part way. It attempts to insert the nice underdog orphan story, but I was never sold by Butterfield or the film itself that solving the mystery of this robot thing would bring closure and meaning to him.
It even attempts to insert the manic pixie dream girl in the form of Isabelle, and honestly fails where it really shouldn’t have. Isabelle is a great idea on paper, an adventurous, cute girl who happens to bump into the protagonist, yet Chloe Moretz, whom I have liked in the past, and maybe even the way the character is written, really fall flat to me and become overly cliche. They even try to shake the MPD girl moniker by having her ask her own purpose, which ultimately goes unanswered other than to be there to serve the needs of the protagonist, classic MPD girl status. Heck, they even try to make an elaborate mystery out of the whole story, but honestly, and to quote Isabelle herself, “enigmatic doesn’t suit you.”
If it sounds horrible at this point, don’t believe it because it’s not. In fact it is perfectly passable entertainment, but that is also the problem: its own mediocrity. Sacha Baron Cohen is fun to watch, even if his relationship with Emily Mortimer (who goes underused), as well as that of Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, is a bit too much to include, and all the while so skimmed over that it comes across as unnecessary frosting on a cake that already has plenty. There are even some nice rhetorical questions and thematic issues brought up, but ultimately they become unfocused and inserted for some petty fleeting thought. It all amounts to a story about preserving film and showing appreciation for a filmmaker who thought he was all but forgotten, which is nice, except nostalgia about films like La voyage dans la lune does not inherently make this particular film good. In fact it makes me recognize the magic and imagination that was lacking in it instead.
I love Georges Melies, not this film, and it is important to denote the differece. Also, Michael Stulbarg.