By Mike Smith
High above the crowds in the Paris Train Terminal, young Hugo Cabret (Butterfield) tends to the clocks, making his way through a seemingly never ending maze of tunnels and catwalks. Orphaned after the sudden death of his father (Jude Law in a nice cameo), a clockmaker, Hugo is put in the charge of his uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), a heavy drinker who brings Hugo to live with him in a small apartment behind one of the great clocks. Apparently the knowledge of gears and springs runs in the family. When not spying on the comings and goings of the people below, Hugo is attempting to repair an automaton: a mechanical man his father had discovered at the museum where he worked and had brought home as a kind of father and son project. He only needs a few more gears and a mysterious heart shaped key to wind it up.
Based on the award winning book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, the film is a faithful adaptation that unfolds beautifully thanks to its heart, director Scorsese. While the film is centered around the mechanical man, the main character here is the quiet owner of a toy shop (Kingsley, who should most definitely receive an Oscar nomination for his work) whose past is celebrated without his knowledge. To say more would give away a major plot point but when it’s revealed you realize that not only was Martin Scorsese the perfect choice as director, he might possibly was the only choice.
The cast is aces across the board. As young Hugo, Butterfield shines. His wide eyes taking in the world around him, while still projecting the sorrow behind them, Hugo is wise beyond his years in some ways. As the book loving girl he meets in the train station, Moretz (“Kick Ass,” “Let Me In”) continues to add to an incredible early career that puts her on the same track as Jodie Foster and Kirsten Dunst…a child actress that will seamlessly grow on screen before our eyes. Kingsley, who is surely this generations Robert Duvall (the man NEVER gives a bad performance) makes the character of Papa George come to life. Credit also to Sacha Baron Cohen as a local constable, Christopher Lee as the book seller and, in smaller roles, Richard Griffiths and Emily Mortimer. And though he doesn’t say a word, I should point out that the actor who plays early jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt is Emil Langer. I say this because he bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp (I heard more than one whisper during the film). Further confusing is that Depp is a producer on the film.
If I have one problem with “Hugo,” it’s that no one in authority seems to know that Uncle Claude is no longer working the clocks. You’d think that his paychecks would stack up in the office. Just a quibble but something that occurred to me.