Director Martin Scorsese is halfway there with this movie. He has moved out of violence and barbarity into more gentle human emotions, and that’s good. Alas, unfortunately, he still hasn’t found a pair of scissors with which to edit his films. Once again he seems to have put every single foot he shot into this, making it at least 40 minutes too long.
And that’s too bad because this is a sweet story with excellent acting. It’s the story of an orphan boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who surreptitiously cares for the huge clock in a Paris railroad station, living in the rafters, à la The Phantom of the Opera, after his father, Jude Law, dies in a fire near the start of the film.
When a mean shopkeeper, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), takes Hugo’s prized notebook, he tries to get it back. He is befriended by Méliès’ stepdaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who helps him because she’s looking for “adventure.”
What progresses from there is a true adventure that deals with the earliest days of filmmaking. Set in the 1930s, this is highly appealing, with a heartwarming story, excellent acting, and displays wonderful restorations of some actual films made at the dawn of the filmmaking era.
Butterfield and Moretz give fine performances for actors so young (13). Even though Moretz looks several years older than Butterfield (maybe because she is taller), she is less than two months his elder. Even so, what appeared to be a disparity in their ages was somewhat bothersome. I kept wondering why a girl, who appeared to be several years older, would have such an interest in such a younger boy.
But this wasn’t enough to keep the film from being delightful, despite its length.
There’s a B story involving the station guard (Sacha Baron Cohen), who is trying to capture as many orphans as he can to sell them to orphanages, and the girl he pursues, Emily Mortimer. Cohen gives a surprisingly good comedic performance outside of his better known profane characters like Borat and Br?no.
Kingsley and Helen McCrory, Méliès’s wife, Jeanne d’Alcy (Mama Jeanne in the movie), give performances that expertly capture their seemingly inscrutable characters so essential to maintaining the mystery that permeates the film.