‘Hugo’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated December 12th, 2014 at 9:36 pm,

Asa Butterfield in Hugo Hugo Review

Scorsese’s ode to the medium he loves so dearly will still be as poignant, rich and vital so long as film itself remains so.

Hugo is most definitely a Martin Scorsese film, and one of the better ones at that. But more than anything else, Hugo is a movie about the love of movies, crafted by a man who truly loves moviemaking, and meant for those who in turn love the art, spectacle, imagination, and soul-stirring joy of cinema.

In short: Hugo is another Martin Scorsese masterpiece.

The film has been sold as a “family-friendly adventure” full of whimsy and spectacle, and for the first act of Hugo’s two-hour runtime, this is absolutely true. The story opens on 1930s Paris, where we meet young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), the orphaned son of a clock maker, living in the walls of a train station where he fixes and maintains the many clocks that need attendance. Hugo’s father perished in a fire, leaving behind the mystery of a strange automaton that Hugo obsessively tries to fix, as was his father’s wish. The boy’s unfaltering quest brings him into contact with many colorful characters around the station, including the orphan-hunting inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), a curmudgeonly old toy maker (Ben Kingsley), and eventually the toy maker’s bookworm goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). However, the quest to fix the automaton is only the first piece in a much larger mystery – one that involves a long-lost filmmaker, and a convergence of lives and destinies that will bring together all those who encounter young Hugo Cabret.

As stated, Hugo may at first seem like it is simply ‘Martin Scorsese making a 3D kids movie,’ but once the automaton is completed and the larger mystery revealed, it quickly becomes apparent what drew Scorsese to this film (based on the 2007 historical fiction book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick). But Hugo is not a kid’s film. Hugo is not even really a film for mainstream audiences. Hugo is, in large part, a celebration of the early era of cinema, centered around real-life pioneer filmmaker, Georges Méliés. It is this unabashed joy and celebration of movie magic that elevates Hugo as one of Scorsese’s most lovingly-crafted and imaginative films. It is also what will make Hugo a bit too heady and artistic for those hoping for a more mainstream adventure.

Hugo Martin Scorsese and Ben Kingsley Review Hugo Review

‘Hugo': Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the magic of movies.

Screenwriter John Logan (GladiatorThe Last Samurai) skillfully adapts Selznick’s novel into a film that works on a multitude of levels, offering one of the richest, most rewarding cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while. There is something for everyone to grasp onto and be moved by in this film – be it the idea of adventure and destiny (kids); the exploration of that in life which “breaks” us, and in turn, “fixes” us again (adults); or simply the meditation on what makes movies truly wondrous and transcendent (cinephilles). It’s all there in the story of Hugo’s journey – a journey that the script steers the viewer through with careful control and near perfect synergy of its respective parts.

The genius of what Scorsese has done, from a directing standpoint, is to craft a love letter to cinema’s past in the form of cinema’s present (and arguably its future): digital 3D. Hugo is the most accomplished and worthwhile 3D film I have seen – and yes, that includes James Cameron’s Avatar, the film which resurrected the 3D trend. Where Cameron used 3D as a highly effective and captivating tool of spectacle, Scorsese is the one who as officially elevated the technique to the level of high art.

From the onset, it is clear (in the choices of scene construction, set pieces, and photography) that Hugo is the work of a master filmmaker embracing a modern trend in filmmaking. Instead of using 3D as a gimmick, or even an augmentation of his already considerable skills, Scorsese boldly explores the new and unique filming possibilities offered by the medium. At times this movie is simply beautiful to behold (early scenes in the train station  come to mind), while at other times, the filming choices Scorsese makes are stimulating and provocative in their originality and creativity (later scenes set during the early days of silent filmmaking are, ironically, some of the best modern 3D scenes ever shot).

In short: with Hugo, Scorsese single-handedly makes a case for why 3D is worthy of living beyond the lifespan of a trend, as well as setting a new bar for what filmmakers should endeavor to accomplish with the format.

Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield in Hugo Hugo Review

Butterfield and Moretz in ‘Hugo’

Of course, no movie would hold itself upright without a cast of talented performers to bring it to life.  Scorsese’s name clearly commands a high level of respect in the industry, as even the smallest roles in Hugo are populated by some accomplished acting talent. There are appearances by Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer and Michael Stuhlbarg – all of whom are bit players in this film, but manage to create vivid and lively characters, no matter how small their role. Every person we meet is an important cog in the narrative machine.

The central adult characters are also wonderfully realized, with Helen McCrory (Harry Potter) delivering great understated pain and longing as the toy maker’s loving wife; Ben Kingsley once again proving why he is one of the best actors there is, putting on a full display of emotion and complexity as the toy maker with a mysterious past; and even Sacha Baron Cohen showing that his comedic identities as Borat or Bruno are but exaggerated expressions of his true acting talents. Cohen’s arc as the station inspector is one of the more subtle (yet moving) performances – one that starts off seemingly one-note (comedic relief), but comes to a resounding finish that is in perfect fit with the many layered themes of the story.

As for the young leads: Chloe Moretz is already an established star, having broken in stardom via films like (500) Days of SummerKick-Ass, and her leading role as a savage vampire in Let Me In. As the precocious Isabelle, she is a perfect foil for Hugo – and though she is more reserved than usual in this film, the scenes of her and Butterfield going through the slightly awkward motions of boy/girl politics makes for some of the movie’s most endearing moments. Like Hugo, Isabelle is also an orphan, and the movie lightly touches on some serious subjects like death and loss, which Moretz is deftly able to deliver in a mature-but-not-too-heavy manner.

Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield in Hugo Hugo Review

Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield in ‘Hugo’

It seems safe to say that Asa Butterfield (Son of Rambow) has achieved a breakout success playing the titular Hugo. The opening of this film is an ode to the old silent movies it celebrates, and involves Butterfield onscreen for a good ten minutes without uttering a single word. Even without the crutch of dialogue to lean on, Butterfield manages to instantly establish Hugo’s presence and character, through skilled expressiveness and body language that most adult actors might struggle with. Later on, when he’s required to carry scenes of powerful emotionality, Butterfield again rises to the task set before him, making some of the story’s heavier themes and moments truly great and moving. Definitely a young star in the making.

Aside from its gorgeous 3D imagery, Hugo is not a film that bends to the tastes and trends of the times. The film sets its own pace and takes its sweet time building its story arc, subplots, character developments and themes – unafraid of catering to shallow desires for speedy payoff or empty spectacle. While that slower pace, and the sudden change of focus in the second act, may disappoint those who have been lured by the film’s ‘3D kids movie’ marketing (or even bore kids too young to understand the headier themes), there is no doubt that this is a film whose achievements will last well beyond the now. Indeed, Scorsese’s ode to the medium he loves so dearly will still be as poignant, rich and vital so long as film itself remains so.

Heck, by the time this movie hits home video, I may have to go out and buy a 3D TV, just to be able to recapture the full experience of seeing it. One of the year’s best films, in my opinion.

Hugo is now playing in theaters everywhere. Check out the trailer for the film, and rate it for yourself in our poll below:

[poll id=”218″]

Our Rating:

5 out of 5

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  1. Holy crap a 5 out of 5. Hell has officially frozen over.

  2. 5/5
    Wow, just
    i Think this is just about a first for me, now i have to go check it out.

  3. That’s it. I’m leaving work early and seeing this RIGHT NOW!!!

  4. If any SR regulars are wondering, I agree with this review and the 5/5 100%.

    Incredible movie in every way – just a breath of fresh air after so many mediocre films I’ve seen lately.


    • I was wondering that. Thanks Vic! I’m going to check it out soon…

    • That’s completely reassuring. I was already planning on seeing it but now I’m completely sold on catching this. Heck, I may even shell out for 3D, as much as I dislike 3D (strains my eyes pretty bad sometimes).

      But seriously, I don’t think the trailer did the film justice, from what I’ve read here. The trailer looked like a quality, beautiful family adventure film. I had no idea there was that much more in the story.

    • I agree 100% with you. I took three other people as a gift. With concessions it was quite a large painful bite. But instead I felt great, and everyone loved it. My ten year old niece turned to me and said, “thank you for the movie. It was a gift.” She quoted from the movie, but she was also sincere. Although later I was saying it was the best movie I’d seen all year, and she said, “after the Smurfs.” Oh well, I know this one will stick with her.

      I would gladly trade every other big budget movie I saw this year for this one, if I had to make a choice. Nothing has come close to this, for me.

  5. Wow, thats impressive… good day for SR reviews, this and then Muppets 4.5

    • Was thinking the same thing. Hey Vic, this has to be some kind of milestone. a 4.5 followed by a 5 star review. The weekend looks promising.

      • INK,

        Yeah, don’t think that’s ever happened.


  6. You know, this movie kinda went under my radar. I kept getting it confused with the TinTin movie and just lost interest somwhere. But now being reminded that it is a Scorcese film and with this great review, ill definatly check it out.

  7. Great review Kofi, and with this and The Muppets this is the best weekend to take kids to the movies.

    And Kofi, extra props must be given out to you for not ruining one of the surprises in the film with one of the main characters whereas in all of the other reviews I’ve read the critics spoil it within the first 2 paragraphs, big thanks!

  8. Wow! So many movies to see, so little money. Four movies were released today that I really, really want to see. I think that, with my very limited funds, it’s going to be A Dangerous Method for me. Hugo’s next, though.

    • No fair A Dangerous Method is in your area!
      I’m STILL waiting on Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene, doubt that A Dangerous Method will ever get here.

      • You know…I actually hadn’t even checked. We have a theater here specifically for indie/artsy/limited release movies, so I just kind of assumed that it would be playing here. Turns out that it isn’t. This is very disappointing.

        • Sorry to hear that.

        • Looks like “A Dangerous Method” has received a very very limited release so far. I’m in San Francisco, and it is not playing here either, and it’s also not playing in Chicago. So I’m guessing it only opened in LA and NY.

    • Yeah, according to Box Office Mojo its being only in 4 theaters. That’s right 4. Add the fact that the film has almost zero buzz or marketing a doubt much of an expansion will happen.

      • @ Jose: Just found out that “A Dangerous Method” is going wide on 12/25.

  9. o_O I gots to see it

  10. “The genius of what Scorsese has done, from a directing standpoint, is to craft a love letter to cinema’s past in the form of cinema’s present (and arguably its future): digital 3D.”

    Beautifully said.

    • Agreed. Every review talks about how Hugo is a homage to film making and cinema’s past, while also mentioning its wonderfuly use of 3D, but this is the first review that bridges those two points together in one beautifully said line.

  11. Well, this review officially sold me on it – well said and well done, Kofi.

  12. Who the hell would give this movie 1 star? Is this what the term “hater” actually means?

    • Yep. You’ve got to be a cretin to give this movie one star, or maybe—just someone who should have stayed home and watched the Housewives of Beverly Hills. Some people ask and are satisfied by so little, so banal, so unimportant, and are threatened by anything more. It must be a comfort to them, to mine so shallow, in some way I don’t understand.

  13. Who in the world would give this movie 1 star? Is this what the term “hater” actually means?

  14. HA! Kofi fooled me with the byline question, I thought for sure it was so obvious this one’s got a bad review. Got me!

    I hope to see this one pretty soon now.

  15. I saw Scorsese on The Daily Show…..His young daughter told him, “I think you made a good movie this time…..” How can you top that?

  16. wow, 5 outta 5. Never seen SR post that before! :)

    • mongoose,

      Oh, we’ve given out a few:

      Blue Valentine

      The Fighter




      and a handful more.



  17. 5/5 that’s rare, and i definitely watch this film!!!!!!!

  18. Welcome I am a fan of actor Asa Butterfield Hugo seems to be a movie .. Excellent film and beautiful, waiting for the descent of the film in Kuwait I respect Asa Butterfield ^ _ ^ ^ _ ^

  19. This is by far the best review of the film I have read! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  20. Great film! Saw it this afternoon.

    The pacing bothered me in the beginning, but the payoff at the end was enormous! The motivations make sense after you see the bigger picture.

    • Nicely put, my family and I saw it yesterday and felt the same way. A rewarding film. And Sasha was a great supporting actor.

  21. I can’t recall when I have read a review with the reviewers head so far up Martin Scorsese rear end! Do any reviewers ever talk badly about a Spielberg, Scorsese, etc. film even when their mediocre at best. I just don’t get that. There is such a “bandwagon” effect by reviewers on Hollywood films that you would think no one could muster an original thought.

    This movie cost more than $150,000,000.00 dollars to make. I would hope the studio got something for their expenditure as they spared no cost in making this film or in paying the people hired to “trick” it out. I think this review is so far over the top then this movie deserves. I can’t recall a review so agrandized and exaggerated, that you would think this reviewer is getting paid off.

    First of all, the movie is way too long. Second, it doesn’t hold true to the story as written, which was a dissapointment for my kids. Third, how dare you compare the mold-breaking effects and 3D of Avatar as being less substantive than this exaggerated movie. That surely is a “crock”!

    Just because Martin Scorsese directed this film, doesn’t make it is a masterpiece. Doctor Zivago, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, those are Masterpieces. Scorsese has directed plenty of “dogs” in my opinion. But no one ever has the honesty to say so. Where is the “kiss ass” school that you go to, to become a movie reviewer.

    Is Hugo, the movie, entertaining – Yes. Is there alot of “over the top” acting – Yes! Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread – NO, not hardly as this reviewer would get you to believe. The movie is interesting at best. It is a moody film in a “Dickenson” manner. Ben Kingsley is excellent in most things he does and carries the movie forward. The kid actors, are descent, but nothing exceptional. I have seen far better kid actors in other films in Hollywood than this one.

    If you are not a fan of 3D, and wearing the glasses, you aren’t going to like this film anymore than any other 3D (chock full of Graphic Animation) movies. In short, for the high price tag of a seat – this is an o.k. movie, at best, for what it cost to make – it is entertaining, but unnecessarily -way too long.

    • “Do reviewers ever talk badly about Spieldberg?”

      Where were you during the Kingdom of the crystal Skull bashing?

    • To each their own, Mr. Lewis.

      But your need to accuse reviewers of having “their heads up Scorsese’s rear end,” smacks to me of sour grapes and the old adage, “every party needs a pooper.”

      It’s OK if you didn’t think this movies was all that great. That’s your prerogative. But I smell something else here. I smell the need to debunk. The need to be the guy who was smart enough to know this movie really ain’t all that much. To condescend to what others say is good. Real good.

      So you go your way, I’ll go mine. But for anyone reading this thread, I’d suggest you listen to Mr. Lewis at your own peril. Whether in the end, you agree with me that Hugo is a masterpiece, or you agree with Lewis, this is a movie worth seeing to cast your vote. In any case, It WILL BE a classic. Mark my words.

      And, as another opinion in the ring, I think Mr. Lewis is dead wrong about the 3D effects in Hugo vs. Avatar. IMO, the 3D effects are far richer, more consistent, more realized and more artful in Hugo than in Avatar by a long shot. Not to put down Avatar. It was a good movie in its own way. It’s apples and oranges to compare the two, except I will stand on my belief that Hugo is by far the better and more dramatic use of 3D.

      I also found much more heart and soul in Hugo than I did Avatar. But that’s just me, and up to y’all to decide for yourselves.

  22. I’m interested to see this. Martin Scorsese doing steampunk looks pretty cool. Ben Kingsley is usually hit or miss for me. His face sucks.

  23. This review conjured up the same feelings I had watching Where the Wild Things Are. That was a brilliant movie that didn’t pander to modern trends and not especially child friendly.
    Can’t wait to take my 3 kids to see this!

  24. Love Asa Loads hope you see this asa xxx

  25. I didn’t like it that much. Actually, at all.

  26. This movie sucked. Not worth the time or money.

    • what were you expecting another ‘explosion’ effect Bay movie? Again I saw this movie when it came out and i enjoy it for what it was as Kofi said…this was a message about the love of cinema which you obviously didn’t recognize but to each their own. I would love to see this in 3-D though.

  27. Holy crap I agree with Matt McMann. This movie was horrible. I was seriously hoping for the armegeddon during this movie it was so bad. Stabbing my eyes out would not have sufficed. Painful!!

    • Phil, Matt, Dan,

      Yeah, OK. Go curl up with your Blu-ray copies of the Transformers trilogy.


      • Vic, I’m so with you. Some people just don’t want visual poetry, great story, multi layered message, astonishing cinematography, not to mention the best 3D ever. Some people just want an endless car chase and lots of explosions. Nothing to be done about it. To each their own. But having loved this movie as much as you did, I just hope that all those who are open to this kind of mastery treat themselves to it. It just doesn’t come a long every day. For those who really love the art of movies, this one is magic.

  28. pll, Matt, and Dan…

    I just have to ask: WHY did you hate this film so much? Of course, it is your right, but at least, provide SOME support for what otherwise appears to be you frothing at the mouth…

    For my part, I thought it was an excellent film. The acting all around was top-notch and showed quite clearly that the actors knew what film they were making…and loved making it. The sets were obviously beautiful and certainly called forth the earlier time they were designed to illustrate…all the while maintaining the necessary element of whimsy. The story, while an adaptation, never felt forced to me. Also, the action of the story never seemed to lag behind the quieter (or “slower”) parts of the film…at least, to me…and the film had many genuinely funny parts as well.

    If this film does not get a number of Oscar nominations and at least one or two wins, I will feel shocked and disappointed.

    • You know what the best part (for me at least) that was just visually stunning and i guess grabs you? the first 5-10 minute were there is literally no dialogue (i wonder if that is what some people are piss-off about) as you see the world through Hugo eyes. It can’t get any better than that!

  29. Just saw the film, this is review perfectly grasped how I felt about the film ! ONe of the best reviews i’ve read ! You said it for all of us, bravo !