Perhaps the best way to begin a review of a Martin Scorsese movie that doesn't sound and feel like a Martin Scorsese movie is to acknowledge the fact that at least, here's one Scorsese movie you can show the whole family. Eventually, this stemmed from Marty's wife telling him they cannot show any of his films to their young daughter.
That fact alone is reason enough to go and see the movie. Heck, see it twice. HUGO's magic never degrades; its scope timeless.
HUGO, based on the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, links a young boy's search for meaning and purpose to an ultimate celebration of the cinematic art as a means of realizing dreams. What begins as a fated encounter between rascal Hugo who's been living alone in a train station, and toy shop owner Georges (Sir Ben Kingsley) unfolds into an adventure of self-discovery and resolution of suppressed emotions for both characters, all set against a lavish backdrop of 1930s Paris, and the colorful and often painful history of cinema.
Via series of lovable characters that provide warmth and a much-needed catharsis from both of the main characters Hugo and Georges, master filmmaker Martin Scorsese mounts one grand gesture after another, and we are along for the ride as if discovering love for the cinema for the first time. In fact, there's one character in HUGO which represents that curiosity that unfolds into astonishment that cannot be contained- that of Chloe Grace Moretz's Isabelle. Hers is that character that discovers film for the first time, and when she does after being kept in the dark and restricted for so long by her Papa Georges, it's like the Isabelle in each of us triumphed in endless wonder. Isabelle's easy acceptance of the film medium is no surprise as she is already inclined in literature. That, and filmmakers like Gaspar Noe and Pier Paolo Pasolini weren't making movies yet (imagine the shock of a pre-teen having IRREVERSIBLE or SALO as their first film experience).
Even the semi-antagonist but otherwise lovable Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) helps propel the plot forward, because in every step of the way, you'd know there's someone who can and who will thwart Hugo's intentions. You do not necessarily despise Gustave though, because in the end you'd also want him to triumph in his pursuits. (In a normal Scorsese movie, Cohen's character would have been whacked in the first 40 minutes.)
Asa Butterfield is wondrous as Hugo, maybe short of few acting exercises (wait and see until he becomes the next Haley Joel Osment) but otherwise fit for the role. Butterfield's eyes are very expressive in nature, a quality that also won audiences' hearts in his debut film THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS.
Sir Bin Kingsley manifests great charisma and authenticity as the pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies, exhibiting childish wonder as Georges the filmmaker, and a poignant bitterness and eventual vulnerability as Georges the toy store owner. How can one not show empathy for such dedicated portrayal of a beautifully-written character?
Scorsese fully understands the impact of films to a child, because like many other filmmakers he grew up with a fondness, er love for the movies, which is why the first time he did a family film yield successful results.
For those wondering, Georges Melies is a real filmmaker, most known for his film A TRIP TO THE MOON. The blending of fact and fiction in HUGO is smoothly-written that distinguishing what is what is beside the point. Like an escapist movie but with an undeniably big heart, HUGO ought to be enjoyed like a child experiencing the wonder of his first film.