On The Wrong Track
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was on in cinemas in the UK and US in November and is now on Netflix internationally. So Tripwire set its editor-in-chief Joel Meadows and senior editor Andrew Colman the mammoth task of watching and reviewing all of his films. Next up is 2011’s children’s drama Hugo reviewed by Joel Meadows…
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee
In 2011, Scorsese moved even further out of his comfort zone to make Hugo, a children’s film based on Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
The film begins in a train station in Paris with orphan Hugo (Butterfield) trying to solve the mystery that his father (Jude Law) left him before he died. The station is inhabited with all manner of quirky characters like the Station Inspector (Baron Cohen), a man with a war wound who is bent on rounding up all the orphans at large in the vicinity, watchmaker Papa George (Kingsley), who hides a dark secret about his past, and Monsieur Labisse (Lee in one of his final roles), a man with a huge collection of books he enjoys lending out to the children who live and work around the station.
Hugo is not a movie that you could ever imagine a director like Scorsese helming. To paraphrase The Coen Brothers, Hugo doesn’t have that Martin Scorsese feeling. Its production looks very much like a Jeunet and Caro film, the French filmmakers who made Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children. There is an awkward artificiality here which, as with Gangs Of New York, takes the audience out of the viewing experience. It was shot, oddly enough, not in France but at Shepperton Studios in the south of England, which amplifies the unreality. Also, Hugo’s narrative is uneven and goes off at a tangent, starting out as a children’s adventure story before digressing into what is essentially a love letter to cinema from Scorsese. The change in direction revealing that Papa George is actually early cinema maverick George Melies in hiding makes the whole film feel very pedestrian and amateurish. Scorsese revealed in an interview at the time that seeing Melies when he was a teenager had a huge impact on him, with his first experience of cinema informed entirely by his work – a moment in his life that of course set him on the parth to becoming a filmmaker. However, such a watershed moment in Scorsese’s life had little impact on the classic entries in his canon, which had virtually nothing in the way of naïve innocence and parable (as fans of the director would of course know).
Also Scorsese’s casting here is not as impeccable as one would expect. Kingsley is excellent as ever, as is Lee, but Baron Cohen turn as the dogged station inspector is trite and lacks credibility. Butterfield is serviceable enough as protagonist Hugo but the chemistry between him and George’s adopted child Isabelle (Moretz) lacks any real warmth or chemistry.
The film failed at the box office despite it earning a Golden Globe for best director. It is evident that the filmmakers wanted Hugo to be the first installment of a film franchise but due to its failure to engage, such a notion was soon dispensed with. Scorsese has stepped away from his usual subjects before but Hugo proves that he really isn’t suited to make a film aimed at a younger audience – in the end it simply feels like an opportunity for him to nostalgically indulge in his love of early cinema. Acknowledging your progenitors is a familiar aspect of movie brat cineastes’ work, and one cannot fault Scorsese for producing a labour of love effort about a forgotten era of cinema – but there needs to be something more here to attract an audience beyond Scorsese’s base, and despite his best intentions, there really isn’t.
Here’s the film’s trailer
Here’s the other Month Of Marty reviews so far as well
And here’s our review of The Irishman from last year too