After losing his father to an accidental fire, twelve year old Hugo goes to live with his uncle who tends the clocks at a train station. When his uncle up and leaves, Hugo's left to fend for himself and when he's not stealing to survive or doing his uncle's job, he spends his time trying to fix his father's automaton, a metallic doll built like a music box. With the automaton nearly fixed, Hugo struggles to unlock the one remaining mystery, a heart shaped keyhole he has no way of opening.
I love Marty Scorsese's work, from GOODFELLAS, CAPE FEAR, CASINO, GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE DEPARTED, to SHUTTER ISLAND and even BOARDWALK EMPIRE. What do all these films (and one TV show) have in common you might ask, well they have nothing at all to do with HUGO on any level or in any way, shape or form. Scorsese's at his best with gritty, violent works of art, not family films and though visually this film does have his sense of grace and style, atmospherically it's way off and I wasn't liking it one bit. I can sum this one up in two words: immensely overrated.
The story is all over the place with where it's trying to go, ignoring the straight line between A and B and instead rearing off in any and all directions as it tries to jam in all sorts of nonsense in to kill time. And as such, we end up with about a half hour of dead weight that just drags the film down. The subplot with the dog lady is just plain ridiculous, then we have a drawn out bit with Sacha Baron Cohen's inspector character and the flower girl that, in my opinion, was elaborated upon simply because it's him. And beyond that, there's all sorts of extra stuff like finding out a police officer's wife left him and is pregnant, which in itself doesn't fit within the realm of family themed fun and feels terribly out of place. The mystery of the automaton is interesting to be sure, but the way it all comes together should've been handled smoother to keep the audience interested rather than putting them to sleep.
The one thing this film has going for it is the acting. Sir Ben Kingsley is brilliant (as always) and I love Chloe Grace Moretz, her rise to fame is well deserved and puts a big smile on my face. Jude Law and Ray Winstone make brief appearances but are forgotten almost instantly as a result. It's a shame really, as I'd rather see more of them than more of Cohen (I enjoy the guy's work, but his bumbling character here feels more like he belonged in Mr. Magoo). It was however, refreshing to get some Christopher Lee action, that man dominates the screen no matter how small the role. Newcomer Asa Butterfield did a good job as Hugo, he handled the emotional pull of dealing with tragedy very well and he, Moretz and Kingsley shared some believable, heartfelt chemistry when and where it counted.
HUGO is film with heart and some visual flare, but although this young boy's quest to help others is indeed noble, the whole thing seemed very unlikely. A twelve year old boy can't live in the walls of a train station. Sure, the film tries to justify it by way of Hugo tending the clocks in his uncle's stead, and like he says, "as long as the clocks keep working, I'll be fine". If only it were that simple. Without giving anything away, his uncle's found dead, and has been that way for months apparently, so who was cashing his pay checks this whole time? They didn't have direct deposit back in the 30s, so don't you think someone in payroll would've noticed? Hugo steals a bun and some milk at one point, but there's no fridge, stove, or even cupboards in his little niche in the walls, so what's he eating to stay alive? Add to that it's winter time and everyone else is bundled up coats, hats and gloves, meanwhile this kid's running around in shorts. I hate to cut up a family film, but the plot has more holes than a shooting range target after a day of heavy gunfire. Had they trimmed the fat a bit better and addressed some of these points with a little more finesse, HUGO couldn't been much more fun, but instead we end up with a slow, drawn out film that loses you in all extra clutter. Hopefully Scorsese goes back to the hardcore adult themed stuff, that's clearly where he belongs.