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Hugo (3D) (AF)


Stars: Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law

Director: Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s error in his Oscar-winning The Departed was the bizarre casting of Ray Winstone as a hood instead of casting an actor able to do a convincing American accent.

Now Winstone returns in a cameo role here (and rather more noticeably, in adverts on the sides of London buses) bewhiskered and unrecognisable as the alcoholic uncle of recently orphaned youngster Butterfield whom he takes from his home to live in hidden rooms in a 1930s Paris railway station and learn how to keep the station clocks running and on time. Winstone then vanishes, leaving the resourceful lad surviving at the station where, in addition to timekeeping, he purloins pieces of machinery from Kingsley’s station toyshop in an attempt to reanimate the automaton his watchmaker father (Law, effective in a minor role) was working on when he died.

Butterfield’s misdeeds brings him into conflict with Kingsley and then into joining Kingsley’s teenage granddaughter Moretz in an hugely entertaining adventure that ingeniously leads them to the rediscovery a of legendary French film pioneer Georges Melies and his restitution to his rightful place in the Hall of Fame of the history of the cinema.

Prior to Hugo, I wouldn’t have put money on Scorsese, best known for gritty gangster classics like Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’ and Gangs of New York making a palatable family film. And, in true critical tradition, I would have been wrong.

Hugo turns out to joyous family entertainment. You do not need to be a film buff to appreciate Melies’ extraordinary and fantastic imagination. His films that we see, black and white and hand coloured, are still unique, the combination of the talents of someone who was both a noted stage magician and the first and one of the finest film fantasists. The scenes recreating his moviemaking are alone worth the price of admission. In effect, though, they are simply the wonderful bonus for a wonderful movie that starts out as an amazing juvenile adventure and segues seamlessly into a highly satisfying dramatic resolution without stinting in either guise.

Visually, the film is stunning, opening with a brilliant rushing shot from high in the sky into the station and on to the platforms and halls at eye level in a single 3D take: the special effects really are special without ever being allowed to upstage the human drama.

Performances are uniformly excellent, led by Butterfield, perfect as the feisty 12-year-old. Moretz is good too, as is her elocution perfect English accent, Kingsley changes from grouch to loveable with skill, Baron Cohen adds pantomime comedy as a limping station policeman while Griffiths and De La Tour (reunited from The History Boys add spiky comedy as pensioners looking for love.

“The movies are our special place”, says Butterfield. And he’s absolutely right!

Alan Frank

USA/UK/France 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors. Technicolor.
126 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Dec 2011